One of the joys of getting older is the slow replacement of visiting family and friends with visiting health providers for various reasons as the body slowly wears out.
We have recently been visiting dentists, optometrists, our wonderful GP, blood clinics, radiology, the pharmacy, all taking time away from the leisure of retirement.
We both realise that this is a good thing and that our various dear providers are doing their best to keep us upright and functioning for as long as possible, which we do appreciate.
We tend to be spending a lot more time at our local hospital at various appointments, sharing the waiting room with other retirees who would rather be at home in the garden or travelling the country tasting the fruits of our rural economy. All perfect strangers sometimes. Other times there will be others we know, a grand chance to catch up. Even the strangers become acquaintances after about 20 minutes of chat, as is the way in provincial New Zealand.
Living in our town for nearly 40 years we do know a lot of people, mostly of our age of course, so these appointments do provide a chance for some sort of social contact with old friends or acquaintances.
Having never had much to do with our hospital during our working lives, thanks to health insurance, we have been very pleasantly surprised at the magnificence of our local hospital and its very hard-working and professional staff. Our hospital has, in recent times, slowly transformed into a very modern and up-to-date facility that we are lucky to have. It is a magnet for visiting overseas-trained specialists, doctors and nurses as well as our home-grown variety. They are all wonderful, caring and so knowledgeable.
With retirement and ageing comes the inevitable inability to be bothered keeping the health insurance payments up. We dropped our insurance a couple of years ago, refusing to pay the eye-watering premiums demanded for basic surgical cover. We could afford a decent overseas holiday with the amount demanded. I know what I would rather have.
We were a bit nervous at first but then, thinking it through, our local waiting lists in the public hospital are not long, the care is wonderful, the facilities more modern than the private hospitals we used to frequent and the staff are just as friendly and caring. In fact in our town it is not unusual for nurses to work in both private and public systems with all our local medical specialists doing the same so competence is never an issue.
Our hospital is also a community hub in a town still small enough that people are comfortable with smiling and greeting each other, even though they are strangers. The foyer can be a very crowded and noisy place with older folk sitting and chatting, children running around, parents trying to herd cats, the delightful smells of the adjacent cafe making one's mouth water and taking one's mind momentarily off what might be an unpleasant reason to visit.
Having also, in recent years, had reason to visit another public hospital prior to the passing of my dear mother-in-law in another town, also a very modern amenity, I cannot understand the criticisms of certain politicians and groups about our public health system. There is nothing amiss with the level of service provided that I can see.
The hospitals are designed to deal with large numbers of people and seemed to be staffed accordingly. The wait times are not long in my experience, really not much longer than one would experience in the private health system. The level of care seems to be first class.
Compared to other similar societies New Zealand is very fortunate with the public health system in place here. This system has recently managed and is still managing the biggest pandemic to hit our shores for more than 100 years.
Its success is clearly evident in the very low death toll recorded compared to other places.
The health system had to adapt dramatically in March this year to be able to possibly cope with thousands of Covid-19 cases. No one knew what we would face so the worst had to be planned for.
Waiting lists were suspended temporarily until we knew what we were facing. There has been, with the benefit of good old hindsight, severe criticism of this from some quarters. It was very unfortunate and has likely lead to some people dying early due to the inability to access treatment promptly. However this hard decision has to be placed into the context of what the Government and public health officials knew and did not know back in March.
What was the Government and the public health officials supposed to do? The first priority of any Government is to protect all its citizens.