Opinion: Public health needs even more private money

Hospital public health funding
We need more wealthy people to fund the shortfalls in the health system, says Mike Roke. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: As a frequent user of the public health system with my son, let me give you a few words of advice. If you are going to get sick enough to need a hospital visit, make sure you do it during business hours.

Monday to Friday 8am - 5pm there are plenty of doctors, surgeons, specialists, radiographers, physios etc. but after those times - and particularly on weekends - it is a very different story.

If you are critically sick on a weekend you will get seen and you will get the appropriate care. However, if you are quite sick, but not life threateningly so, you will wait. And wait and wait and wait.

So a huge thank you and congratulations to Mark Dunajtschik. His promise of a $50 million children’s hospital in Wellington will make a massive difference to the lives of families in the lower North Island.

His announcement on Monday got me thinking - maybe that is the answer. Getting the super rich to help fund the shortfalls in the health system.

I want to make the point that these shortfalls are not the fault of the doctors and nurses who treat people on a daily basis. They all do a fantastic job, working with the paltry resources that are available, and it is very much appreciated.

This is not even a go at the health system in general either. It is not perfect, but if you have an accident or get sick you will be seen. No one gets turned away in this country and that is something to be proud of.

My frustrations are towards the lack of funding. We have good people but we need more. More doctors, more surgeons, more nurses, specialists, community care workers… More, more, more.

To me a hospital is the very definition of a 24-hour, 7 day operation. There should be just as many doctors available at 2am on a Wednesday or 1pm on a Sunday as there are at 10am Monday.

I’ll share a personal story. My son has had some quite serious feeding issues this year. Due to his complete inability to chew and swallow he is fed a milk nutrition supplement directly into his bowel via a gastro-jejunal tube.

Although he has Cerebral Palsy and not huge amounts of motion ability, he has just enough movement and aim in his arms that he can pull said tube out. This is not a medically serious issue but does require a visit to the radiology department at hospital to put it back in. That procedure itself is not a difficult one, just a fiddly one that takes about 20 minutes or so.

This happened late one Wednesday night - it was dealt with efficiently and we were sent home. All was fine for the next 36 hours, until he unexpectedly started vomiting and we had to head back to hospital to get him checked out.

On the Saturday morning the doctors told us they would like to do a contrast study to check for a blockage. Basically a barium solution would be injected into his stomach and they would x-ray to watch where it goes. Here’s the problem though: no one that does those studies works weekends.

So we had to wait another 48 hours to get on the list for Monday and hope they could fit us in. Sitting in purgatory staring at the same four walls until the weekend is over.

Surely we can do better than this? And if the Government can’t find the funds somewhere to reduce waiting times, waiting lists and get more doctors, maybe some more philanthropists can?

Chances are that during your life that you or someone close to you will experience the public health system first hand. You will see the frustrations written all over the faces of parents, patients and doctors about the lack of funds and equipment. You will see there is only one power cord that gets shared between three monitors. You will hear the words “hopefully someone will see you today”

So c’mon rich people. You can’t take your money with ya. Why not give some to a health system bursting at the seams?

Mike Roke is a technical producer for RadioLIVE Drive with Ali Mau, weekdays from 3-6pm.

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