Andrew Wheeler was an emotional wreck after waiting for more than two days in North Shore Hospital's emergency care centre to find out what was causing the extreme pain in his back and arm.

The 41-year-old Birkenhead IT worker, who has two daughters, went home both nights because he couldn't cope with the waiting.

He was referred to the hospital by his GP this month. He arrived at 10am on the first day and an x-ray was taken but was little help. He went home in the evening and returned the next morning.

Halfway through the day, Mr Wheeler was seen by an orthopaedic surgeon, who suggested an MRI scan and intended to organise one, but it didn't happen.

"I finally discharged myself without any help. Literally I left the A&E waiting room in tears, both of pain and distress."

Two days later he was called back to the hospital, waited another half day, and was discharged with a diagnosis of a viral infection of the shoulder nerves, which he doubted, and was given painkillers.

He sought another opinion, was given an MRI funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation, which identified a slipped disc, and is awaiting ACC approval for surgery.

The problem arose from a weight-lifting injury several months ago, but because the original pain was in his chest, he didn't think to tell the hospital staff about that, not realising the new pain was from the same source.

"However, I was not happy with the lack of communication and time spent waiting. I was an emotional wreck after sitting for two days in the A&E waiting room.

"The whole system is exacerbated by the lack of access to proper clinical tools such as MRI. The trauma doctors could not authorise an MRI. The orthopaedic surgeon was scarce and was slow to make a decision."

Waitemata District Health Board chief executive Dave Davies said yesterday that the emergency care centre was exceptionally busy when Mr Wheeler attended.

"The board ... has recently approved an additional CT scanner and this will speed up the process."