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More than a third of adults do not receive the health care they need

Emergency department sign

The number of people presenting to emergency departments in life-threatening situations was increasing.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

More than a third of adult New Zealanders are not receiving the healthcare they need, according to a new study by the senior doctors’ union.

Patients needing specialist care were left “in limbo” with their GPs as the number of people presenting to emergency departments in life-threatening situations grew.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists report used official data including patient surveys, waiting lists for non-surgical care and information on the number of people referred to a specialist but refused care.

About 1.75 million people were missing out on dental care, while 329,000 and 55,000 children were not receiving the treatment they needed for their mental health or addiction, it said.

The number of people who did not receive specialist care in four months was six times higher in September last year than in July 2019, it found.

In an editorial about the study in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the authors said this had big implications.

“As access to hospital specialists declines, increasing numbers of patients are left in limbo under the care of their GPs, further increasing pressures on access to primary care services and running the risk of patients’ condition deteriorating and quality of life worsening,” they said. .

The report says the number of people attending hospital emergency departments has increased by 22 per cent in the nine years to 2023.

And the proportion of them arriving with immediate or life-threatening conditions has increased from half to two-thirds, he said.

The union said the situation was much worse than in comparable European countries and urgent investigations were needed.

He said any changes needed to be much broader than just the health system and address problems that could contribute to poor health, including poverty.