A new study showing the level of unmet health care needs in New Zealand has been labelled as damning by medical professionals.

The pilot study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today found at least 25 per cent of adults were unable to get the primary health care (community care including GPs) they required while 9 per cent of people had unmet secondary health care needs (specialist treatment, usually by referral).

But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was committed to increasing access to specialist care and data showed the number of first specialist assessments carried out was increasing as was the number of people receiving elective surgery.

Christchurch surgeon Dr Phil Bagshaw, who led the study, said the results of the study were even worse than he had expected - particularly in terms of secondary care.

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"There are probably hundreds of thousands of people who have an unmet need that are not recorded," he said.

Bagshaw said the 9 per cent of people with an unmet secondary health care need in the survey had been told by a specialist they needed treatment but had not received it, usually because they did not meet the criteria to be put on the waiting list.

He said the results showed there was a need for a robust, independent study into unmet need to be carried out regularly to determine where the issues lay.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said the findings painted a damning picture of the level of unmet health need in New Zealand.

"These research findings provide a strong counterpoint to the continual messages from the Government that all is fine. No, it's not fine when so many thousands of people are living with distress and illness aggravated by inadequate access to the health care they need," he said.

"It's very frustrating for a doctor to know that a patient requires health care but does not meet various thresholds for accessing it and of course this is very distressing for people who are missing out on treatment.

"The Government needs to demonstrate its commitment to the health of all New Zealanders by addressing the high levels of unmet health need as a matter of priority."

New Zealand Public Service Association spokesman Simon Oosterman said the Yes We Care campaign which had been travelling around the country this week had highlighted how many individuals had been forced on to benefits because they couldn't get the specialist treatment they needed.

Coleman said the Government was focused on delivering more assessments and more operations.

"The latest data shows 552,423 patients received a First Specialist Assessment in 2016, a rise of almost 10,000 on the previous year. That's an increase of 147,912 patients since 2008.

"This uplift has been accompanied by a continuing increase in the number of people receiving elective surgery."

The Government introduced a target for DHBs to ensure people were treated within four months and as at the end of June last year there were 259 patients waiting longer than four months for treatment compared to 6774 in June 2008.

Desperate for a new knee

Eileen Bain has been waiting for a second knee replacement ever since she got her first one two years ago. Photo/Supplied
Eileen Bain has been waiting for a second knee replacement ever since she got her first one two years ago. Photo/Supplied

Eileen Bain has been waiting for a second knee replacement ever since she got her first one two years ago.

She was offered the chance to have both knees done at once but opted to have them one at a time.

Since then the 72-year-old has been kicked off the waiting list three times - the first two times she was told there were people worse than her.

The last time it was because her BMI too high. While waiting she had put on weight and was 1kg over the threshold.

Now they won't put her back on the list until she loses weight.

"You can't lose weight when you can't walk," she said.

She has tried everything - walking with a walker, a rowing machine and a vibrating exercise machine - but it is all too painful.

"It's just so frustrating - being sore all the time and not making any progress," she said.

"I can't go out on my own because I can't drive. I need help getting in and out of the car, I need help getting in and out of the house."