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Free surgery for rejected Auckland patients

Published: 6:40PM Thursday April 08, 2010 Source: ONE News

Patients dumped off hospital waiting lists in Auckland are being offered free surgery, mirroring a similar service in Christchurch.

A group of health professionals in Auckland has set up the service there.

And for eight Aucklanders so far, charity has begun not at home but in a theatre at Southern Cross Hospital. It is one of four private facilities on the North Shore which has donated free theatre time to allow a small group of doctors to operate on patients the public system has turned away.

Heath Zachan and Carole Deane are two Aucklanders who had given up hope they would ever get their operations, until they met general surgeon Dr Luigi Sussman.

He and his GP wife are the push behind the new venture called Auckland Regional Charity Hospital or ARCH. The aim is to give charity surgery to patients like Zachan.

"I work hard, I pay my taxes and everything else but I don't have the money to pay $10,000 to go private," says Zachan.

He needed tail bone surgery. His GP heard a whisper of ARCH, applied, and weeks later he was in Sussman's office.

"He turned around and said 'right, when can we do this?' And I was absolutely astounded," says Zachan.

He had his free surgery in March. So did hernia patient Deane, who had also been denied public surgery.

"I kept going to the hospital, kept collapsing and my friends would take me to the hospital. Each time I was turned away," says Deane.

They are two of the eight patients ARCH has operated on so far.

"I don't think any government in the world can attend to all the health needs of the people. And I think New Zealand has been very good to me and it's just a way of giving something back really," says Sussman.

He and five anaesthetists have given their time for free.

The dream is to replicate New Zealand's first modern day charity hospital which opened in Christchurch two years ago.

"It was always one of our great hopes that the idea would spread," says Dr Phil Bagshaw of the Christchurch Charity Hospital.

Bagshaw says they have operated on over 1,000 patients and many more need help.

"What happens is we sweep the problem under the carpet and we pretend it doesn't exist," he says.

ARCH hopes to one day open its own hospital.

"We've got the vehicle in place, I guess what we need is more money for gas to run it," says Sussman.

Now that word is out, patient referrals from city GPs are expected to flood in.

There is a set list of criteria for patients to qualify for free surgery. They have to have been declined by the public health system and they cannot be eligible for ACC. They also cannot have private health insurance and they have to declare they have no financial means to pay for surgery.