More than 9000 pieces of medical equipment worth well over $450,000 have gone AWOL from hospitals around the country.
Every year, thousands of items lent out to patients are returned late - or not at all.
Crutches, walkers and shower stools were the items which most commonly went missing but at Auckland District Health Board a cough assist worth $9635 was overdue while a mattress worth about $4000 was outstanding in the Nelson-Marlborough District Health Board area.
Taranaki District Health Board said in the past 10 months they had needed to replace 400 pairs of crutches at a cost of about $10,000.
Figures released to the Herald showed there were about 8881 items overdue from Auckland, Capital and Coast, Hawke's Bay, MidCentral, Taranaki, Waikato, Waitemata and Nelson-Marlborough district health boards. Five other health boards were unable to provide figures while the remaining seven did not provide a response to questions.
Of those, only four were able to put a cost on the overdue items.
The 5758 items overdue at Auckland, Capital and Coast, Hawke's Bay and MidCentral DHBs were worth a total of $448,303.
Earlier this year, Capital and Coast DHB put out a call for people to return any unused and overdue equipment - no questions asked.
Not only did un-returned equipment cost a lot, it had flow-on effects for other patients, Capital and Coast DHB contracts manager Kenny McCaul said.
"People sometimes simply don't get around to returning equipment, or they put it away and forget – but this means another patient in need may miss out, or face delays in being able to leave the hospital and go home."
The DHB did not have a shortage of medical equipment to lend but un-returned items needed to be replaced using funds that would be better spent on newer equipment and technologies, he said.
There was also a cost associated with following up overdue items, which was done weekly at Capital and Coast.
One Auckland father admitted to holding on to a couple of sets of crutches and a knee brace for about a year and a half before returning them.
They were borrowed from the hospital after sporting injuries sustained by his son and daughter.
"They are so regularly injured that I actually kept them because I just knew they were at the age when I was just going to have to go back and get them again," he said. "I actually felt guilty."
The man said he was always surprised hospitals did not require a bond when borrowing equipment.
A Wairarapa DHB spokeswoman said they did not charge a bond because "for some people that may become a barrier to equipment use and it is important for recovery that people have the items they need to assist them during that time".
Extensions could be arranged for anyone who still needed to use items after the original return date, the DHBs agreed.
Unused items could be dropped off at hospitals or, in some cases, collection could be arranged.
The DHBs pleaded for the return of their equipment and guaranteed there would be no penalties for people returning items late.
Hutt Valley DHB was unable to provide current figures but said by the end of last year, there was $40,000 worth of overdue gear that had been loaned out by the Occupational Therapy Department.
A hospital spokeswoman said items were loaned to patients in order to help them get around and manage at home after an injury or illness.
"It is important that our equipment is returned as soon as it is no longer needed as there is a wait list for some item," she said.
"Having to replace equipment that is not returned impacts on our ability to purchase different equipment that could be of real benefit to clients."