'Human scandal' as Christchurch elderly refused access to surgeries
Colleen Beaton spent three years unable to use her left arm, battling with the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) to prove she was in enough agony to receive the surgery she had been referred for.
With her left knee now deteriorating, it is the third time Beaton has been denied surgery. She has now given up, like many others attempting to gain access to elective surgery in Christchurch.
The city's elderly warn a "human scandal" is looming, with hundreds being refused elective surgeries and the CDHB struggling to cope with demand.
Four Christchurch friends are furious after each being sent a letter refusing assessment for their ailments "due to the number of people with a greater level of need".
For Beaton, who did not want her age printed, arthritis has affected most of her joints.
Her shoulder was replaced last year after 36 months of "not being able to use my arm".
"The doctor said 'I can put your name down on the waiting list, but you'll never get in'."
An operation on her hand went by the wayside after surgery was refused.
"I went to see the surgeon and she didn't even look up when I came in, she just said 'we don't do hands'."
Then, her right knee began deteriorating, but a surgeon told her it was not bad enough to be operated on.
"It got worse after that – I couldn't walk properly and it was affecting my whole body. I was having to throw my leg, it was always swollen."
Beaton was left to treat herself at home, and had lost faith in the health system.
"What can I do? Go back to the doctor and go round in circles again? No. When you're over 60 or 70, they don't care about you."
About 4000 people in Canterbury were awaiting surgery at any given time. In the 2014-15 year, 1200 hip and knee replacements were performed in the region.
CDHB chief executive David Meates said they were meeting targets set by the Ministry of Health, but he acknowledged they should be doing more.
Canterbury had the largest proportion of elderly in the country.
The CDHB argued that because it was required to do a larger volume and more complex surgeries than other health boards, its funding worked out to be the lowest in the country per surgery – and had a funding gap of $7.8 million compared to Waitemata DHB.
In the 2010-11 year, the CDHB was penalised $2m for missing the Ministry electives target.
Funding was a "constraint", Meates said.
"Overwhelming demand for mental health has taken away any ability for us to increase spending on electives above what is required to meet the health target."
The Ministry was not able to comment due to time constraints, but previously said performance targets had been relaxed in the past to "allow the DHB to do things differently in its circumstance".
Canterbury Charity Hospital founder Phil Bagshaw said it was another case of growing global unmet need, where Western society deemed elective surgery too expensive and moved toward people paying for surgery themselves.
The "flawed" model was especially detrimental for elderly, Bagshaw said, where preventative care and elective surgery was far more cost-effective than forcing them into full-time care.
Jean Hodges, 77, went through her day at a "four out of five" on the pain scale.
She urgently needed a knee replacement due to severe arthritis, and had been given a walker after physiotherapy and cortisone injections did not work.
"I got a letter to say I'm not even going to be assessed let alone treated. How urgent have you got to be, do you have to be crawling around on the floor?"
She estimated she had ten years of life left, and did not want to spend it in a wheelchair for an operable ailment.
"It's cruel – there must be hundreds hobbling around holding these letters."
She had written to the Health Minister about the looming "human scandal".
Husband Ted Hodges had also been referred back to his GP with an untreated 24-millimetre tear in a hip muscle.
"The worst part about it is if you've got the money you can have it done tomorrow," he said.
Friend Val Towner, 78, was refused assessment for a knee replacement after initially being told she was on the waiting list.
"This business is a complete waste of everyones time. They drag you in for an assessment and tell you you're on the waiting list and then all of a sudden tell you you're not," she said.