How's your health?

Have you, or someone you know, tried to get an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon lately?

Well, I have. I've spent the best part of a week trying to get an appointment for my husband. He was surfing at the weekend and managed to rupture his bicep. (I know - if you're like me and you're squeamish, you're recoiling in horror about now.)

I think we spent close to four hours in an A and E Department on Sunday. The initial assessment and the x-ray was pretty straight-forward, but everything went south when we needed an orthopaedic surgeon to look at his x-rays. He or she was too busy. They were overwhelmed at the hospital so Luke was told to wait until Tuesday - this was Sunday - and then ring around to see if he could get an appointment with a surgeon.

So he did that. Most had a waiting list of between a month and six weeks. His bicep is detached and looking pretty hideous at this stage so we booked him into a GP. His GP's nurse said she might be able to get him bumped up the list more quickly. And she did - by a week. His bicep has been torn from the bone, and the earliest we can get in front of an orthopaedic surgeon is at least three weeks, and he was told they may have to refer him elsewhere too.

It's at this point we found out that left unattended, an injury like this can have long-term implications for the strength and mobility of his arm. So I called friends who are physios and got him an appointment. And they confirmed what his injury was, and somehow, I still don't know how, they got him an appointment with a surgeon. So today, six days after he suffered that awful injury he's going to see an orthopaedic surgeon. He needs his bicep reattached so hopefully he'll have surgery soon.

In the middle of all of this, a media release popped into my inbox from Annette King, Labour's health spokesperson. She quotes Government figures when it comes to unmet need in this country, and it says 60,000 Kiwis were declined a first specialist assessment referral in 2015-2016.

And 20 per cent of those are orthopaedic declines - people who've got problems with their bones, joints and muscles. DHBs just do not have the capacity to help people with conditions like my husband's.

I was speaking to my producer about this and she told me about her father-in-law who did something similar to his shoulder. He couldn't get a diagnosis and so his GP kept topping him up with painkillers. And eventually when he did see a specialist, that specialist was horrified by his injury. He finally had surgery - 6 months after the injury.

I went to visit a friend's husband in hospital - a couple of years ago now - and he runs a construction company. He had badly broken his leg; he needed screws and pins and various things. He spent more than a week lying on a hospital bed waiting for surgery.

There weren't enough surgeons and each day he'd get bumped down the list because an elderly person would need hip surgery after a fall, or someone would come in with significant trauma from an accident. And yet this man's leg was badly smashed up - and he spent a full week just lying on a bed.


If a nation doesn't have its health, what does it have? The three men I've just talked about are all in the workforce. They're all taxpayers. They're all busy people, leading busy active lives. Health is wealth. It is imperative for any economy that you keep your workforce working.

I think DHBs need to put everyone who needs surgery on the waiting list. Labour bumped people off under Helen Clark so our health system looked better from a political perspective. On paper at least, our health system appeared to be doing brilliantly. But it's a farce. Let's get a true indication of the unmet need in this country - the number of New Zealanders who desperately need treatment, but can't get it because they can't get on the list.

You only realise how far we're falling short in this country when you're in the system yourself.