Which waiting list are you on?

We all think we know the meaning of hospital waiting list. It is the list of people who have been deemed in need of an operation for the sake of their immediate and/or long term well being. We understand it is a list that gets manipulated by politicians for the purpose of point scoring. We know it is a list that the District Health Boards that govern health care at regional levels is responsible for keeping as short as possible. This, they most certainly try to do. But are they actually shortening the list through operations

There are two lists that I think a hospital keeps regarding patients waiting for operations. One is the official one that is known to the Ministry of Health, known to the District Health Boards and known to the surgeons in the operating theatre, which for the purposes of this article I will call the white list. The other is the unofficial list of people who at some point or another were on the white list, but whom have been told that they do not qualify for surgery or that they need further testing done, or that A.C.C. will not cough up – you get the drift. I will call this list the grey list.

If you are on the white list, you have hope. You are shortlisted for an operation and have somehow managed to navigate the bureaucratic maze and the A.C.C. paperwork. You might have a few months to wait, but at least you have a timeline in which you can somewhat reasonably expect to be operated on. Well done. For those of you needing things like hip or knee replacements, that are the difference between whether or not you can get on with your life or hold down a paying job, the future is looking sunny – well sunnier than it was.

This list is one that does not get longer for some strange reason, despite many people needing surgery. So where do those people who do not appear on this list go? And that is where the grey list comes in.

If you are unlucky to be one of the unknown number that have gone onto the grey list, I sympathize with you. I really do. You are the poor people who have the right to grumble and grouch as I hope you will in the media – sometimes a good grumble in public is unfortunately the only way to get a satisfactory outcome. Your need for a grumble might be because A.C.C. have lost your claim for the umpteenth time or view you as a nuisance because your case has fallen through cracks in their system that they knew about and did nothing to fix. It could be because you need a procedure that is not funded in New Zealand and it is prohibitively expensive to go overseas – lobbying your Member of Parliament may or may not have yet been tried.

It really should not be like this, but as you, the waiting patient who has no idea when the good Doctor will ring and say “Hello. I would like to talk to you about having surgery next week…” will have figured out, sometimes there is simply no other way. Your life might be on ice effectively until you have the procedure. Your ability to contribute to the economic well being and social development of this nation is on ice because you cannot hold down a job. If you are a senior citizen who has retired, your ability to enjoy your well earned retirement and be a good grand parent to your son/daughter’s off spring is crippled.

So, when politicians claim that they are making inroads into the waiting list. Are you sure that they are just not ending up on the grey list?

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