Wairarapa Hospital ED doctor calls for action from Te Whatu Ora, says NZ in healthcare 'catastrophe'

An emergency department (ED) doctor says Te Whatu Ora is all talk and the lack of action is "insulting". 

Wairarapa Hospital ED Clinical Head Dr Norman Gray believes New Zealand's healthcare system has progressed from being in a "crisis" to a "catastrophe". 

"I would say a catastrophe, not a crisis. I know the previous ministers use that term crisis or like the term crisis, but I think it's actually a bit more than that now," he said. 

It comes as doctors prepare to go on strike on Tuesday as they continue to raise concerns about the condition of the healthcare system. 

Senior doctors are calling on the Government to urgently address dropping staff numbers and increasing wait times for patients.

Among them is Dr Gray who told AM on Monday Wairarapa Hospital is "very busy" and they don't have the staff to cope with the demands. 

He told AM co-host Ryan Bridge the increased wait times are seeing a rise in the mortality rates.

"During that waiting time there's suffering, losing dignity and overall, for people that are seriously ill and need admission there is increased mortality rates," he said. 

"The last study done in New Zealand, if your admission to hospital is delayed by more than six hours, your mortality rate in the first week goes up 10 percent, so it's important." 

He told AM this leaves him feeling "sad" and responsible but at the same time, doctors can't control the situation. 

Dr Gray said Te Whatu Ora is good at releasing statements that sound "good" but believes the lack of action is "insulting".

"I read the same things you read and I get stuff on my email and it's all very good but it's all words and really they have to be judged by their actions and not their words," he said. 

"In some ways, it's almost a little bit insulting saying we're going to do this, we going to do that, we really care about you. 

"Then on the other hand, they don't really care about you that much because they disrespect you, they don't come to the table to bargain fairly. It's disappointing I think." 

Dr Gray told AM the reason doctors are striking on Tuesday is because New Zealand's healthcare system is "failing". 

"That's why the ASMS - our collective union of medical specialists - are finally putting a line in the sand and saying, well, this is enough, we can't keep declining, declining, the Government can't keep relying on our goodwill to prop the system up. Our system is failing and unless we make a stand, who else is going to change things?" 

Wairarapa Hospital ED Clinical Head Dr Norman Gray says New Zealand is in a healthcare "catastrophe".
Wairarapa Hospital ED Clinical Head Dr Norman Gray says New Zealand is in a healthcare "catastrophe". Photo credit: AM

Dr Gray said doctors have had "tremendous support" from the public for the strike - which he describes as being "fairly minimal, almost like a lunch break". 

"A little bit of short-term pain now may save a lot of pain in the future and that pain will come as we fail to recruit and retain specialists in this country," he said.

Dr Gray, who has been a doctor at Wairarapa Hospital for nine years, said when he first arrived there were 36 specialists in the Wairarapa, but that has now dropped to 22. 

"We've lost radiology on-site, we've lost the orthopaedic acute service. We don't have any local psychiatrists" he said. 

"So it's been a huge loss of service for the community and it also puts stress on the rest of the specialists that remain." 

In a statement, Te Whatu Ora told AM they share the growing frustration about staffing issues, but they say there is no quick-fix solution. 

Te Whatu Ora is "extremely disappointed" the latest offer - which would have given doctors and dentists a salary increase of between 7 and 12.9 percent - hasn't been accepted.

Te Whatu Ora told AM the door remains open to discussing a settlement.

Watch the full interview with Dr Norman Gray in the video above.