The underfunded ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

Chris, 56, approached his GP in March 2015 after experiencing strange bowel movements. It took 10 months to get a colonoscopy as he was “low-priority”. When he finally got care, it was world-class. The problem was it was too late.

By Simon Oosterman

The hospital found an inoperable cancerous tumour. An earlier diagnosis could have saved his life.

Chris doesn't blame his carers who he says were passionate and did the best they could. They’re part of the 9 in 10 – the people working in health who feel they haven’t got the resources to give Kiwis the health care they need, when they need it.

Chris's story is shocking. Sadly, as I found out, his story isn't uncommon.

In March, I travelled across New Zealand talking to locals about health underfunding. Nico, an Emergency Nurse, and Rico, a videographer, joined me on the roadshow. Together we travelled 6,000 km from Bluff to Cape Reinga, visiting 36 towns over 28 days. We spoke to dozens of people about their stories and collected hundreds more online.

masterton setup

In each town, volunteers helped us set-up 200 life-sized cut-outs of doctors, nurses and other health occupations. Each cut-out represented 100 health workers missing due to underfunding. The cut-outs grabbed the attention of the media, and this created a platform for locals to tell their stories. (20,000 staff is equal to the $1.85b the Council of Trade Union's says the Government underfunded health in 2016.)

And it worked. Our campaign launched on the front page of the Dominion Post and on TV3. We were in 33 local papers, on dozens of radio stories and got further TV coverage. (We also produced daily social media videos and a travel blog.)

The Public Service Association (PSA) created the community and health workforce coalition because we care. Health is an issue for everyone. It's an issue for the 26,000 PSA members working in health. And it’s an issue for all the other PSA members – like Chris – who rely on our healthcare system to be there when they need it.


Common underfunding stories

During the roadshow we heard ten common themes:

  1. Healthcare is becoming more and more unaffordable
  2. People who need surgery can’t get on a waiting list
  3. When they can, the waiting lists are getting longer
  4. The mental health system is in crisis
  5. Health workers are overworked, overtired and burnt out
  6. They’re also distressed because they can’t provide the care Kiwis need due to a lack of resources
  7. Community health groups are trying to fill gaps, while struggling with their own funding
  8. Basic provisions are underfunded
  9. There’s a lack of information and advocacy and support for patients
  10. Underfunded DHBs underfunding NGOs

There's a housing crisis, why don't we talk about a health crisis?

It's a good question – and journalists asked it in every town. A recent Consumer NZ survey found health costs were Kiwis greatest concern, above even housing. So why the difference in coverage?

It’s easy to get a family to talk about high rent or not being able to buy a home. It’s a lot harder to get someone to talk about deeply personal health issues. Many people working in health are more likely to put their head down and fix the problem than "complain". Some are scared to speak out.

It's the biggest obstacle our new movement has to overcome if we want every Kiwi to get the health care they need, when they need it. Our roadshow has shown we can speak out and make a difference, without repercussions.

Kiwis are amazing

While we were shocked by stories from patients, we were amazed by the commitment of Kiwis we met. We are exceptionally proud of our amazing health workforce. The boundless energy of our community health groups is breathtaking.

  • Rev David Hastings is using his own experience battling to get a hip replacement to help West Coasters on waiting lists to get surgery on time.
  • PSA member Tracey Jourdain fights for Kiwis who have her rare disease. She also finds time to advocates for ACC patients others won't help.
  • Bev Watts buys incontinence pads for her elderly patients because their Aged Care facility is so underfunded. She's on the minimum-wage. She could have retired, but she doesn't do it for the money.

What’s next

Our roadshow is over but our journey to the election has only begun.

We need to keep telling personal stories in the media. We'll keep using our 200 cut-outs and any other creative activity to get media attention.

With community groups, we’ll develop solutions to the funding crisis. We'll turn them into five key health funding election pledges we want every party to commit to.

Finally, we'll advertise each party's answer so you know who cares. A yes or no – no maybes. We need every Kiwi to vote for their family’s health.

Help rebuild our health system into something we're all proud of

1. Join the campaign by signing the petition:

2. Share your story:

3. Volunteer your skills. From data-entry to attending a media action, it all makes a difference:

4. Watch out for, and share, our roadshow mini-doco. The most powerful story has no power if no one sees it.