The annual tally of patients denied access to a hospital specialist has grown to around 45,000, a "shocking" figure which shows health is not receiving enough money from the Government, the Labour Party says.
Based on data from 19 of the 20 district health boards, the party says 44,780 patients referred to hospital were sent back to their GP without seeing the specialist they were referred to.
This was 7 per cent more that in 2014, the DHB responses under the Official Information Act indicated.
The greatest increases were in Waitemata and Waikato.
Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said 44,780 patients being denied access "is a shocking figure and underlines how far the cut of $1.7 billion has hurt health".
In fact, the Government has increased health funding annually since it took office in 2008, but King and other critics argue the increases have not kept up with increases in medical costs and population growth and ageing and are therefore a "cut".
Getting to see a specialist, on referral from your GP, is the first step into the state-funded elective surgery system for treatment of conditions including cataracts blurring vision and disabling arthritis caused by worn out hip and knee joints. Hospitals screen referrals to see if patients are sick or disabled enough to meet the DHBs' clinical and financial cut-off points.
King said DHBs refusing to see patients meant people who should be productive members of their community were forced onto the "scrapheap".
" They are being denied care because our hospitals are not being funded to meet demand.
"New figures show that 12 out of our 20 DHBs are getting less money out of the Budget once they have made the adjustment for inflation and population growth.
"The minister has to fund health properly. At the moment thousands of New Zealanders are being ignored when it comes to essential elective surgery."
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's spokeswoman said today he was not immediately available. But she noted his earlier statement that the then-Labour Government in 2006 had estimated that around 25 per cent of all GP referrals to specialists were returned to GP care, which equated to about 65,000 patients a year at the time.
National Government data released in March found that in the three months to September 30 last year, 5335 patients -- 4 per cent of referrals for a first specialist assessment -- were declined because they did not meet the threshold. This is expected to more than double, to 10 to 15 per cent, as the dataset grows and becomes more accurate. A further 6 per cent had their referrals held up for further clinical investigations, or declined because of lack of details from the GP, the health care no longer being needed or transfer to another DHB or specialty.
Coleman said, in the Budget in May, the Government would allocate an extra $96 million over four years for elective surgery.
"Access to elective surgery is a priority for this Government ... Doing more elective surgery each year is crucial."
The number of First Specialist Assessments increased from around 432,000 in 2008/9 to over 542,000 in 2014/15.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said today: "It's simply untrue to say the Health budget has been cut $1.7 billion. Health has remained this Government's number one funding priority. Budget 2016 delivers on that by investing an extra $2.2 billion in health over four years for new initiatives and to meet cost pressures and population growth."
He has previously said that the then-Labour Government in 2006 had estimated that around 25 per cent of all GP referrals to specialists were returned to GP care, which equated to about 65,000 patients a year at the time.
Number of patients returned to a GP after being refused a specialist appointment by a district health board
DHB 2014 2015
Auckland 2740 2696
Bay of Plenty 4313 4718
Canterbury 5055 4631
Capital & Coast 4755 4864
Counties Manukau 970 507
Hawkes Bay 1087 1308
Hutt Valley 2504 1999
Lakes 47 82
MidCentral 1612 1693
Nelson Marlborough 813 1271
Northland 4036 4475
Southern 2589 2992
Tairawhiti 380 481
Taranaki 1537 1343
Waikato 2436 2920
Wairarapa 852 884
Waitemata 4415 6005
Whanganui 1218 1335
West Coast 432 576
Total 41,791 44,780
Source: Labour Party
Note: South Canterbury's data was not available