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Charity hospital changes lives in Christchurch

Published: 2:30PM Sunday June 15, 2014 Source: Sunday

They're the people our public health system doesn't have room for.

People with conditions that need surgery, but aren't sick enough to make it onto public hospital waiting lists.

People like Patrick Maloney who developed a hernia in his groin a year ago.

It's a rupture in his abdomen that causes him pain and affects his ability to do his job - lifting crates as a bread delivery man.

But it's not serious enough to qualify for elective surgery at the Christchurch Hospital. When his GP referred Patrick for surgery, the Canterbury District Health Board wrote back and said they couldn't offer him an appointment.

Patrick doesn't have health insurance, doesn't qualify for ACC and can't afford the up to $8000 needed for a private operation.

"I just sort of thought, what do I do now? Do I just live with this hernia?" he told TVNZ's Sunday programme.

But Patrick is lucky. He did meet the requirements for free surgery at the Canterbury Charity Hospital and is now on his way to recovery.

The Charity Hospital is funded entirely by donations and bequests - and run by doctors, nurses and dentists volunteering their time to work for free to help people like Patrick. Last year, they did more than 1000 surgical and dental procedures and hundreds of counselling sessions.

"They're a group of people who feel that they've been neglected by the system, that suddenly are so grateful that somebody's willing to do anything for them," says Dr Philip Bagshaw, who started the hospital in 2005.

He says he did so out of frustration with the public health system - not just in Christchurch, but nationwide.

"There's just a big un-serviced part of our public. But yet, there's no outcry about it is there?"

In part, he says, that's because it's not being measured. The Government only counts the numbers of people who get surgery at DHBs - not those that miss out.

"Successive groups of politicians succeed in burying this problem and they did a very good job of it," Dr Bagshaw says.

The Health Minister Tony Ryall says this is changing - from July, the Government will start to measure the number of people referred to DHBs for surgery but who aren't judged serious enough to make it onto a waiting list.

And he says the Government has boosted funding for elective surgery, with 40,000 more elective operations being done now than six years ago.

"There'll always be people who won't be able to be seen in the public hospitals because there are limited resources," Minister Ryall says.

But Dr Bagshaw believes the whole system needs a rethink - and that keeping people like Patrick healthy and paying taxes will save money long term.

"If people started thinking of health being an investment rather than a cost, and spending the money early in avoiding complications, I think we'd have plenty of money for what we're doing," he says.

"The problems don't go away, the problems get bigger. Much better to do a very simple operation on him and get him back into the workforce."

You can see the Critical Condition story on Sunday at 7pm

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