An Auckland woman got the shock of her life when she was told she was at risk of stroke and a heart attack but would have to wait nine months for a potentially life-saving scan.

But DHB officials were forced to apologise after realising an administration error had been made and Maureen Christian's case wasn't as urgent as she'd been told.

It was only until the Weekend Herald made enquiries into the 79-year-old's case that the error was realised.

Christian was given the initial grim prognosis after being admitted to Middlemore Hospital recently with pneumonia.

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She was found to have an enlarged heart and thickening of the walls of the main pumping chamber along with high blood pressure. She said the hospital specialist told her to be careful and that risks included stroke and heart attack.

And then a specialist noted in Christian's hospital discharge care document that she needed a cardiac ultrasound done within six weeks to examine the structure and function of her heart.

But she received a further shock earlier this month - nine weeks after she came home from hospital - when she got a letter telling her she will have to wait 40 weeks for a scan.

"It certainly put my blood pressure up," Christian, told the Weekend Herald. "It's a shock. Nine months. It only takes that long to have a baby."

The referral letter Counties Manukau sent to heart patient Maureen Christian. Photo / supplied.
The referral letter Counties Manukau sent to heart patient Maureen Christian. Photo / supplied.

She thought it was a misprint but was initially told that the service was busy and had to factor in emergencies.

"I was shattered because I thought, 'Oh gee, I have another life ahead of me'," said the grandmother of two.

"I had lots of energy and now I get short of breath.

"I thought it would be something they would get on to. The longer you leave it, the worse it might be."

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In a statement provided to the Weekend Herald, Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Margie Apa said that patients who didn't need emergency care are prioritised by a cardiologist and placed into five bands.

An echo-cardiogram was aimed to be done within two weeks for Priority 1 patients, within six weeks for Priority 2 and 12 weeks for Priority 3. Those deemed "non-urgent" may wait up to 46 weeks.

Christian's priority rating was missing from the notice informing her she faced a nine-month wait. But the recommendation she had earlier been told that she be seen in within six weeks appeared to place her as a Priority 2 patient,

The DHB said Christian's clinical priority rating was omitted due to an administrative error "and we apologise for the distress this may have caused".

A spokesperson said that Christian's case had also been reviewed by a specialist cardiologist who decided "based on her clinical notes and tests from when she was in hospital that she is at a relatively lower clinical risk". It put her at a non-urgent rating.

"We acknowledge that this has not been explained to the patient, either through her GP or by the hospital."

Christian's case comes at a time when cardiology screening services are failing to keep up with demand across the country, with delays in Counties Manukau among the longest. Shortages of funding and specialist technicians are issues that have been identified.

Auckland District Health Board, which is the regional provider of electro-physiology services for the Northern region, has been discussing how swamped it is for some months.

A report prepared for an July Auckland DHB meeting said demand for heart scans is outstripping what they are funded to provide.

A regional proposal for more money was being prepared. The report also said further work was needed to agree and adopt "clinical prioritisation criteria" to ensure the budget for these procedures were not overrun.

Apa acknowledged that delays are "longer than we would like." The DHB was, however, doing more than 1000 outpatient echo-cardiograms plus 1300 on patients in hospital.

Auckland, Capital and Coast and Canterbury were among large DHBs with waits of longer than 12 weeks while Waitemata DHB had an average wait of seven months for patients not deemed urgent.