A queue in place of a cure

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
I was going to write something more cheerful this week. Something positive, and upbeat, and joyful. But then my daughter got sick and I had to go to the urgent doctors, writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
And because I use this column like cheap therapy - not so good for the reader admittedly, but it is the thing that tips it over the edge into fiscal viability - I'm just going to spend it complaining about the health system. And there is a lot to complain about, so settle in, and let the warmth from the burning wreckage soothe the terror you feel knowing that at some point in the future you'll be engulfed in the flames of this very &@%#fire.

I'm not talking about the people at the pointy end. Ninety-nine percent of the people I have met who are working in the health system have been fantastic. My GP is wonderful. And, God, what a terrible job: 15-minute sessions of rushing people-shaped Petri dishes through your office as they cough feebly on you. Worried parents of small children, people angry with pain and chancers trying to get prescribed something delicious and recreational.

"Ah, John, still with the sore back, huh?"

Eight hours surrounded by sick people, and looking at weird stuff happening to humanity's creepiest body parts. GPs deserve everything they are being paid, and more. Honestly, to slog through all that study for the best part of a decade, only to have to do that with your life five days a week. I would rather work down a coal mine.

And nurses, even worse. All the above, plus awful hours and distinctly average pay. I have all the admiration in the world.

But, the system they work in. At what point do you call something broken, and not simply teetering on the edge of the cliff? When I was at the urgent doctors there was a printout prominently displayed about staff not accepting threats or abuse.

Here is a hot tip, if your workplace has to have notices like that up, it is not all of the public, all of the time, it is the pure awfulness of the environment you have created driving them to it.

When I arrived we got the last seat. Babies crying raggedly with pain, elderly looking too frail to be out at night, and when my friend was there last week, one poor woman frantic that her husband had a heart attack earlier in the day and was now not feeling well, only to be told by the receptionist that there was a queue, which they could join ... or not.

The worst is my husband in the background crowing about how terrible it is and how superior Turkey is in comparison.

"Would have seen 15 doctors by now, yah."

And he is right. In Turkey I could go to a medical centre, invariably a five-minute walk away, and wait for less than half an hour to see a (free!) GP without an appointment. If I felt it wasn't a GP issue I could (using my own initiative! Without a referral! Or a four-month wait!) go to an, admittedly hellish, public hospital and line up to see a specialist (free!), who would order scans and tests that day (that I would get then, not in three months!) and, if the results were instantly available, I would be told right away (not in six weeks!) and booked in for the next treatment (free!), that would in all likelihood be within the fortnight. When I hear about cancer patients who have experienced the Southern District Health Board's foot-dragging lumbering I quietly wonder if they are not just trying to lower the numbers in hospital beds by killing them all before they manage to get there.

Anyway, stupid o'clock on a Saturday night, rocking a pyjama-clad 5-year-old who is holding an ear and repeating "ouchy-ouchy-ouchy" in a monotone which builds up over a three-hour wait into a crescendo of psychotic screaming pain and a husband who I know is going to use the experience as ammunition in a future "we should move back to somewhere warm with superior food and better career prospects" argument.

Every country I have ever lived in has had a much better health system than New Zealand's. System, to be clear. An undervalued, over-worked, under-funded system. But, as my husband is the first to admit, when you actually get there, despite the fact it may have been about seven months too late, you are treated by good people, with excellent training, who are doing their best.

That is the only defence I have.

Well, that and spitting, "Stop whinging. It could be worse, we could be in America."



Oh no. The and at percentage hash fire. Water!

Useful comparison with Old World systems (Turkey).





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