Healthcare failures: Mum going blind delays getting help due to lack of petrol money, car and childcare

A Tūrangi mum who lost sudden vision in her right eye delayed getting help because she didn’t have a car, money for petrol or childcare support.

She, who cannot be named, waited all day until her partner had finished work and could look after the kids before she borrowed money and a friend drove her 40 minutes up the lake to Taupō.

“She was essentially going blind which was very distressing,” said New Zealand Rural General Practice Network (NZRGPN) clinical director Dr Jeremy Webber, who saw her two weeks ago at Taupō Hospital’s emergency department.

As there was no eye specialist at Taupō or any on-call in Rotorua, she had to be driven another two hours to Tauranga Hospital where she arrived at midnight.

“Almost certainly her outcome was worsened as a result of the delay, it some cases you have the opportunity to reverse the vision loss but this opportunity was likely missed in this case,” Webber said.

This story was an example of just one of the problems highlighted at this week’s submissions on New Zealand’s major health restructure, which would see 20 district health boards being replaced by one new national body, Health New Zealand.

Support groups from different parts of the health sector gave their feedback on the
Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill.

NZRGPN representatives warned members of the select committee that our country’s rural population felt invisible to urban decision making and they should be included in the reforms at every step.

He said the struggle to get help faced by this woman who was going blind, was an example of many, especially among Māori and Pacific low socio-economic communities.

“I see stories like that every day, there are no CT scans or ultrasounds available in Taupō so investigations to detect diseases such as cancer take longer, ” Webber said.

In the 2019 Health and Disability System Review led by Heather Simpson, which sparked the reforms, it mentioned rural inequities 84 times but that had not been reflected in the Pae Ora legislation, Webber said.

“The Minister talks about removing postcode lottery but all the actions seem to be the postcodes between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, completely forgetting about rural delivery,”Webber said.

The network said they had been trying to get figures from the Ministry of Health to show rural comparative health figures but have been told it doesn’t exist.

“That is part of the problem. We need a clear definition of rural and remote rural,” Webber said.

He said ensuring all training doctors were exposed to working in rural communities should also mandated as there was a massive shortage.

Health Minister Andrew Little said the claim the Pae Ora Bill does not address rural health needs was wrong.

“[Health NZ] and [the Māori Health Authority] become permanent on 1 July 2022 but the full reform will take place over a number of years. These reforms will create a system that is simpler and more co-ordinated, allowing for better and more consistent care,” Little said.

He said locality planning is a key feature of the future health system.

“The purpose of localities is to embed a population health approach, line up services to enable more seamless care, and in-turn, tailor services to the needs of the local population. The first prototypes for locality planning are planned to be stood up in April 2022.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) – which represents 5000 doctors across the country – was concerned the Government is attempting to carry out the country’s biggest ever healthcare shake up amid the largest pandemic the world has seen for at least a hundred years.

They’re urging Government officials to delay actioning health reforms, set to be rolled out in July, at least until after the Omicron outbreak settles.

NZMA chair Alistair Humphrey said those people who were going to give the best advice were those workers who are right now seeing patients every minute of every hour of the day, in some cases, and did not have the bandwidth to be able to submit at this time.

“If you want to know what the doctors and the nurses are thinking about this bill, it is going to be difficult,” Humphrey said.

He also said specific attention on how we were going to deal with the backlog of healthcare, as a result of the pandemic, needed to be a focus of the reforms.

“It is now estimated to be up to three years worth, and in the UK it’s estimated to be 12 years so we can expect to see ours run longer as Omicron spreads,” Humphrey said.

“We can expect an enormous backlog of people who have not been screened for cancers and therefore present with later stages of cancer requiring more intensive therapy.

“Waiting lists evidently will get longer and we think reforms should say how they are going to deal with this enormous.”

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