Opinion

Waiting lists are already eons-long, and they've just got longer

Opinion: If you tuned into the show yesterday, you will know that I spoke about the government’s inability to strategise, to think, to find solutions to systemic problems.

I was talking about homelessness yesterday and questioning why we had spent five years and NZ$881m on housing people in motels. 

And I was also frustrated by the failures of the department of immigration to step in, step up, step anywhere, quite frankly… Just do something to support the thousands and thousands whose visa applications we have ignored. 

And this morning, I am frustrated by the impact of the government's failure to invest in people for our health system, and to have the foresight to predict, or at the very least ask for advice on how our COVID restrictions and closed border may impact our hospitals. 

It is a cruel irony that we have thrown billions at COVID at the expense of continuing to look after both the everyday and critical health needs of kiwis. 

We have spoken this week about the pregnant woman who was sent home from Wellington hospital with a dead baby in her womb because they didn't have the staff to support her to deliver her daughter stillborn. She had to wait two days. 

We also spoke of the woman who presented at Middlemore ED with a severe headache and was told she would wait eight hours to see a doctor. She died from a brain bleed. She was my age. 

And you may have heard that both the Capital and Coast and the Hutt Valley DHBs have put a halt on all planned surgery.

What does that mean? It means no back surgery, hip replacements, knee or shoulder replacements. It means many people who can't work because of slipped discs and a myriad of other issues will be off work and some will be in wheelchairs while they wait.  It means no hysterectomies, hernia operations, gallstones, bladder surgery…Nothing. For a month. In the lower North Island. 

The waiting lists are already eons-long, and they've just got longer. 

Christchurch hospital is a mess too. I spoke to a woman last week who finally received a diagnosis after months of not being able to get an appointment. They called her afterwards. She had lung cancer. She found out later it was terminal. And then she received a letter saying they hoped to get her in front of an oncologist within three months, to look at how they might treat her aggressive, terminal cancer. 

The failures within our hospital care is one of the reasons people are turning up at EDs because this woman was still waiting for an appointment to start radiation and chemo when she started to lose sight in one of her eyes and was in pain. 

Where did she go? She had no option but to go to A&E. And it was there that she found out the cancer had metastasised behind her right eye,  by the way, this woman is a nurse and has worked in public health all of her life. When she needed the system, it failed her. 

The situation that is playing out in our hospitals and DHBs all over the country was avoidable. 

It required, again, for the government to think, to strategise, to plan. To understand, for the love of God, that when they were told the health system was 4000 nurses short, that was going to have major implications. 

But they didn't listen. They didn't plan. 

This was avoidable. 

One of the surgeons in Wellington spoke out, Dr Peter Devane, and he said the government hasn't recruited nurses from overseas, and we needed to. That is our great failing. That, people, is costing lives. 

Jacinda Ardern bats that claim away. She says it's a global problem, but a strategic thinker would acknowledge that and say "Right, what is the New Zealand solution to this global problem?"

Instead, and I cannot understand this because normally I can work out what's behind a political decision but this one stumps me...Instead, we are doing nothing. Unlike the Brits and the Aussies and the Canadians, we haven't offered a single incentive to nurses to move to New Zealand. 

What we needed to do, was offer an immediate pathway to residency. And we won't. We just won't. 

And I come back to the same issue every time.  Where is the thinking? Where is the strategy? Where is the pm on this? 

Where, you ask? She's on her way to a NATO meeting. She's on the world stage. And the entire lower North Island has shut down all planned surgery. 

Right now, our health system is at war, its opponent isn't COVID or the flu, it's a disinterested and disengaged government. 

So what do we do? All we can do is look after ourselves, people. Seriously. Keep wearing your masks, keep sucking back the vitamin c, keep doing what you can to stay healthy, and don’t take unnecessary risks that could put you in an A&E department. If you're sick and you need treatment, absolutely get yourself to a hospital. But in the meantime, take care of you.