About 50 per cent of people suffering from hip and knee problems are denied access to a specialist, a new report has found.
The study, carried out in Canterbury and published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday, found in total 43 per cent of hip and 54 per cent of knee problems were denied access for a first specialist assessment (FSA).
But the Ministry of Health said it was increasing the number of elective surgeries performed.
The study recorded 1733 referrals for patients with hip or knee problem, 90 per cent of which were arthritis related.
Of the patients with a hip problem, 16 per cent were not seen because they were deemed low priority and 19 per cent were not seen because there was no capacity even though they would have benefited from an operation.
It was much the same for knees - 19 per cent were low priority and there was no capacity to see 26 per cent.
While the study was carried out in Canterbury, it was unlikely the issue was an isolated one, the study's authors said.
The study, carried out by members of Otago University's Orthopaedic Department, said the results did not match Ministry of Health figures showing that in June 2016, only 0.6 per cent of patients at the Christchurch District Health Board had to wait longer than the required timeframe for a specialist assessment.
The study claimed the Ministry's metric was "misleading" because it did not account for those who did not make the waiting list to see a specialist.
"With 50 per cent of patients in Canterbury unable to access an FSA for hip and knee pathology and potential surgery, the cost to the community in terms of lost productivity and added support services is likely to be significant, and in our opinion is unacceptable."
YesWeCare.nz campaign coordinator Simon Oosterman said Government underfunding was to blame for the lack of access to healthcare.
"The new research on unmet need is appalling but isn't surprising, because it reflects what we've heard around the country," he says.
"Kiwis who would benefit from surgery are suffering unnecessarily, and we've talked to hundreds of health professionals who are devastated they can't do more."
Ministry of Health electives and national services manager Jessica Smaling said the number of people waiting beyond four months for a first specialist assessment was not a measure of unmet need, nor was it intended to be rather it was about timeliness of access.
"In response to the demand pressures evident for orthopaedics and general surgery services, the Government committed additional funding of $44 million in Budget 2015," she said.
Since 2008 the number of patients receiving a major joint replacement through Canterbury District Health Board had increased from 795 to 1349 in 2016 and the number of orthopaedic fist specialist appointments provided increased by 885, she said.