Like a lot of parents I imagine at the moment, I got the call up to the school sick bay yesterday to collect my daughter. Not another respiratory virus thank goodness, but a shoulder injury. School suggested I take her to A&E or a doctor to check it out.
Now anyone who has been sick lately, or paying attention to the news, knows that now is not the time to try to see a doctor or try to get into an ED. So I waited to lay eyes on my daughter to see how bad it was, because if we could avoid attempting to see a health professional at the moment that'd be preferable. But as soon as I saw my daughter with her arm in a sling and the state of her pain, I knew we needed to get an expert opinion and possibly an ultrasound or X-ray.
So I called ahead to check wait times. I tried our GP first. She was fully booked - she’s never not - so that was no surprise. “Could any other Doctor see us?” Not for a few hours, but yes it was possible. So I booked a slot but thought I may as well try our local ED's just in case they weren't too busy, I mean it was 10am on a Tuesday, how bad could it be?
As it turns out, bad.
The one closest to us? One hour wait minimum. Maybe more. Called another one further away - two hour wait time. Called a third - when I asked what the current wait time was she sighed, “at least 4 hours” she said, “it’s chaos in here”.
We were experiencing nothing other families aren’t currently experiencing when trying to access health care at the moment. Lengthy wait times, lack of staff, over booked GP’s, over run ED’s and stressed nurses.
So we reverted back to plan A - see a doctor in a few hours. We turned up at our allotted time. By this point of course my daughters injury was causing her extreme pain, but as I reminded her, there’d be many others a lot worse off, so we’d just wait. We turned up for our appointment and waited. And waited. And waited. In the car. Our GP clinic won’t let people wait in the waiting room anymore. That policy came in during Covid and for some reason it’s stuck.
So we sat in the car, her in agony, waiting until finally my phone rang. “Sorry,” the receptionist started, “but the doctor is running at least another half an hour behind, can you come back later?”
We had no choice of course but to go away - with little faith that when we returned later we wouldn’t be waiting again for however long. But it made me acutely aware of how much worse it must be for parents of babies who’re desperately ill, or elderly people.
How scary to show up and be turned away or made to wait hours on end. It’s not the fault of the frontline health professionals of course.
They’re doing their best in stretched and trying circumstances, with staffing issues, recruitment problems, lack of decent pay and conditions, and in a winter full of awful bugs swirling around. A closed border for two years hasn’t helped.
Ironically the shut border was supposed to prevent this exact outcome, but here we are. Health system swamped.
And not just the hospitals in crisis, but GP's and Emergency Clinics too.
Kate Hawkesby is a political broadcaster on Newstalk ZB - her articles can be seen HERE.
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