Murray Benton has had to wait more than two years for life-saving heart surgery promised by Auckland City Hospital.
That's more than 18 months longer than he should have had to wait under the Government's strict policy of offering surgery only to those who can be treated within six months.
It has been a time of worry and lost opportunities for Mr Benton, who has had to give up many physical activities, and even watching rugby on television, to minimise his exercise- and stress-induced attacks of angina pain.
As well as helping him avoid a repeat heart attack, he hopes the surgery will enable him to do things like help with house alterations for one of his daughters and to return to riding his surf-ski.
A 64-year-old buildings and maintenance manager from Albany, Mr Benton has been booked for surgery at least three times, only to be shunted down the waiting list at the last minute because of other, more urgent cases and the hospital's aim that the operation be done by a surgeon involved in his first heart surgery in 1983.
Yesterday, the hospital told Mr Benton it had booked him for surgery next Thursday, but could not guarantee it would be done then. The phone call came after the Herald inquired about his case and Mr Benton's wife Sue suspects this spurred the hospital into action - but a hospital spokeswoman said the booking had already been made.
National Party health spokesman Tony Ryall said Mr Benton was a victim of the Government's "hoax promise" of surgery within six months.
"Despite the billions of extra dollars going into health, people like him are waiting extraordinary lengths of time to get vitally needed surgery."
Mr Benton had a heart attack without warning in 1983. He was given a triple bypass operation. In December 2004, after suffering chest pain, he was admitted to North Shore Hospital for eight days. He says he was put on the surgery waiting list then, but Auckland City Hospital maintains it was in December 2005.
Mr Benton accepts the need to treat acutely sick patients ahead of him, but believes the hospital must have insufficient resources if it cannot cope with its elective-surgery patients.
"It's a fairly major operation. You build yourself up to it and when it doesn't happen, it's like being on a roller-coaster."
The general manager of the hospital's cardiac service, Kay Hyman, said the aim of having a particular surgeon treat Mr Benton had restricted the opportunities to schedule Mr Benton's surgery.
She said there had been a significant reduction in the number of patients waiting for heart surgery in the past two years.
JOIN THE QUEUE
February 28, 2006: Auckland District Health Board had 341 patients waiting for heart surgery; 88 of them had waited for more than six months.
February 29, 2008: 225 people waiting; 31 for more than six months.