Friday, June 21, 2024
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Can I please see a doctor?

On the last day of June, I was heading to my father’s birthday dinner when someone suddenly stopped in front of me on the motorway, and my car was subsequently hit from behind at about 80kmh.

I recently wrote about my reasoning for not going to the emergency department when I [probably] broke my toe. Now I have a slightly more concerning tale of the dysfunction of our health system.

After being hit, I was taken by a friend to Wellington Hospital where, after a few hours, I was quite literally taped to a bed in a hallway and taken to be assessed by a doctor. I was diagnosed with whiplash, given a prescription for painkillers and a note for a week off work, and sent on my way.

A week and a half later, I was still grappling with constant headaches, nausea, and very sore and tight muscles – and my medical note had lapsed, so it was time to see a doctor.

First thing on Monday morning, I phoned my Wellington-based medical centre to see if I could set up a phone consult, but they were booked up for the next four days. I then called a Masterton-based medical centre but couldn’t be seen there because I wasn’t on their books.

I was advised to try a local urgent care clinic run predominantly by nurses – and I finally got an appointment.

However, the nurse could not extend my work notice, refer me to Concussion Services, or do anything else to help. She did think that I would need a proper assessment, and the only place I could get it would be Wairarapa Hospital.

The emergency department’s waiting room was so full at the hospital that patients were lingering outside.

The triage nurse told me that I should have a proper assessment of my head and neck – but I would be waiting a very long time. I chose to head home and try to find another way to be assessed.

Both nurses I encountered were kind and as helpful as possible but incredibly frustrated with the system they were working within.

On June 26, the Times-Age reported Wairarapa Hospital as having “just under” 24 clinical vacancies, with 16 more full-time equivalent clinical staff than it employed at the same time in 2022.

Kieran McCann – interim lead hospital and health services for Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa – said as positions are filled, new positions are being added.

“We haven’t fixed that problem. There’s a chronic issue for New Zealand around the recruitment of clinical workforces of all professional groupings.”

In my very personal experience, it seems that the issue extends beyond staffing and capacity, and into the wider health system.

If it had been possible for me to see a doctor, and if Wairarapa had an after-hours like Wellington’s, or something similar to Pacific Radiology, maybe I would have had an option other than clogging up the emergency department waiting room, only to have to head home unseen anyway.

The conditions that medical staff across the region work under often aren’t fair or safe, and the consequence is overflowing waiting rooms and patients left unseen.


  1. My husband and I moved to Masterton in December 2022 because we both require ongoing medication we signed up with the local health providers and we were told we would go on the ‘waiting list’ (there were 650 waiting )…at the last count last month we have moved to 348… 7 months now !!

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Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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