Health And Death

New Zealand is presented often as having a ‘world class’ health system, however it is underfunded and understaffed, with some regions suffering from a severe lack of medical specialists.

By April 2015, according to the World Health Organisation, New Zealand health system ranked 41st in the world, behind Singapore at 6th, the UK at 18th, Australia at 32nd, the USA on 37th place & Cuba at 39th.

Every year there are hundreds of avoidable deaths in the country’s hospitals. For example, in 2013  Eunice Richardson, 80, died after she was given Trimethoprim, a bacteriostatic antibiotic for a urinary tract infection when she was recovering from hip surgery. She was wearing a MedicAlert bracelet warning about her severe reaction to Trimethoprim, and each page of her documentation bore a large orange sticker warning about her allergy. “She was very particular about it and making sure that every doctor knew about it,” her husband Laurie Richardson said. She lost 60% of her skin to massive swollen blisters and died in pain in her husbands arms.  Her death prompted nothing more than an apology from the Canterbury District Health board chief executive David Meates. source

Many Kiwi patients say their health system is not held accountable when things go wrong. For example. Lynne McKay’s life was ruined for years by multiple hip replacements that left her in agony. “What really hurts” the former registered nurse said “is that our health system still fails to hold anyone responsible.” source

This was published in a daily newspaper, Sept 2012:

“Several hundred lives would be saved each year if some of New Zealand’s highest public hospital death rates were brought down to those of the better-performing district health boards.

A Herald investigation has found that the Waikato District Health Board has had among the highest in-hospital “standardised” mortality rates in recent years.

In a five-year period, it had the highest rate for three years…” more here

Another one of New Zealand’s most shocking health statistics is its very high suicide rate. A Mental Health Commission report showed New Zealand’s suicide rate for girls aged 15 to 19 is the highest in the OECD (August 2011) source

There is also a reluctance to release data on hospital morbidity, this is from the article above:

“Figures comparing hospital death rates are routinely available to the public in Britain and Canada, and Australia has endorsed using this kind of information as an indicator of healthcare quality and safety.

In New Zealand, the details have not been readily available, and the five-year figures for the Herald investigation were obtained from the ministry under the Official Information Act.”

There have been countless privacy breaches, the most recent being the release of the private medical information of 24,000 New Zealanders. Their highly confidential personal details were sent in a spreadsheet to almost 1,000 pharmacists in an email that was intended for internal viewing only source:

A number of Government agencies have admitted privacy breaches over the last three years. In 2013, a major breach by the Earthquake Commission saw details of more than 80,000 claimants sent to the wrong email address.

The EQC also sent a claimant an email with an attached spreadsheet with 2200 names, stopped cheque details and claim amounts worth about $23 million.

Also in 2013, the Ministry of Education owned up to a staff member attached the wrong letter to an email, Immigration New Zealand sent two emails with client email addresses to more than 200 advisers, lawyers and individuals, the Ministry for the Environment sent about 150 people each other’s private email address and a Hawkes Bay District Health Board worker mistakenly released a patient’s confidential medical file to the media.


Although New Zealand scores highly on ‘best place to be a mother’ surveys, the reality for pregnant women and their children is often harsh, embarrassing data is often not made routinely available to the public:

  • “Every year in New Zealand, more than 600 babies die during and around childbirth.  Many of these deaths are registered ’cause unknown’.
  • In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health counts ‘live’ babies and ‘dead’ babies.  There is no nationwide register for children injured or disabled at birth.  Even the most severely brain injured children don’t count as such.
  • In the 1960s New Zealand ranked amongst the top five countries in the developed world for our low infant death rate.  We’re now in the bottom ten.
  • You are twice as likely to die as a pregnant or new mother in New Zealand than you are of being killed on the roads.
  • 50% of all pregnancies in New Zealand require medical assistance for the safety of the mother and/or child.
  • 15 years ago midwives had to be trained nurses – now they don’t.  However they can now work independently and apart from any medical assistance.”
  • The Ministry of Health has ordered a review of neonatal services amid concerns about overcrowding. Mothers are transferred to other cities to give birth when their own hospital’s neonatal unit cannot accommodate them. Twenty-eight women were transferred from Christchurch Women’s Hospital in the 2013-14 financial year. A further 12 were transferred in the second half of last year. The unit is funded for 41 cots and has space for 46, but at one stage last year had 54 babies in its care.” (March 2015)
  • Christchurch Women’s Hospital is sending mothers to other cities to give birth because of neonatal unit overcrowding. Twelve were transferred in the second half of last year. In the 2013-2014 financial year 28 were transferred. The neonatal unit has 41 cots, 11 of them in intensive care and 30 in special care. Last year the unit exceeded that capacity every month except one. At one stage last March there were 54 babies in the unit. In April the unit was over capacity for the entire month, reaching 49 babies. In September the unit had 52 babies in its care and was over capacity for 26 days.” (March 2015)

Disease, Ill Health and Morbidity

  • New Zealand is known as the skin cancer capital of the world. Within the country Taranaki has the highest incidence of skin cancer with 70.3 per 100,000 people. The next-worst is the Waitemata District Health Board region with 50.2,  the Bay of Plenty 40.8,   Nelson-Marlborough 42.8 and Southland had the lowest at 20.1. The overall rate for New Zealand rate is 51.8.
  • Cancer testing at Wellington Hospitalwas so poor auditors were worried about the “potential implications for patients’ treatment”. An audit, released under the Official Information Act, shows an area of the histology lab that tested cancer tissue for treatments had problems stretching back for at least a year.

Health Service

Effects on Patient Health

  • ‘Frustrated’ geriatrician leaves – bad news for New Zealand: “Dr Gerry McGonigal has expressed frustration at the way elder care and stroke services are arranged and delivered in many New Zealand hospitals. He is returning to the UK this month. This is bad news for New Zealand, which faces an overall shortage of geriatricians. Wellington hospital not having a specialist stroke unit is very unusual for a major tertiary centre in a developed country. “I could understand a very small hospital not having a stroke unit but this is a main centre. Stroke units were one of the major therapeutic advances of the late 20th century! Without such a unit it is not possible to deliver quality stroke care and this is one of the main professional drivers I have to return to the U.K,” he says. source (9 Sept 2011)
  • A drug credited with saving lives is facing unacceptable delays for public funding” say a cancer specialist. MabThera, (rituximab, commonly used in other countries) is one of a new generation of smart drugs like Herceptin that targets specific characteristics of cancer cells, is already funded for an aggressive form of lymphoma. But the application for it to be used for follicular lymphoma, which makes up about a third of the 770 lymphoma cases in New Zealand, has languished among drug agency Pharmac’s decision-making processes” said Auckland oncologist Peter Browett. (source)

Effects on Medical Staff (violence at work, stress etc)

Under Staffing

  • There is a workforce crisis in New Zealand’s hospitals. Specialist senior doctors are being lost and there is a shortage of cancer specialists. Staff are lost to Australia (where the salaries are 35% higher) and to private practice. The causes are low pay by international standards, overwork and lack of resources to do the job.
  • Junior doctors at Christchurch Hospital say patients and doctors are at risk because of understaffing. A spokewoman for the RDA said that over the last 4 weekends there weren’t enough junior doctors on duty. The acute area only had 3 out of a necessary 5 juniors and there was neither an orthopaedic house surgeon, nor an acute-surgical house surgeon on duty over the weekend, or the previous night. According to a report in The Press the doctors were supported by the out-of-hours clinical coordinators who had written to the CDHB chief executive saying that “shortages were compromising patient safety.” (27 Jul 2010)


  • The education and health ministries are among the worst-performing government departments, according to a report card ranking state agencies and bosses. The report found excessive red tape, bureaucratic systems and ineffective consultation are hampering government departments. The Health Ministry, bottom for value for money overall, was “struggling“. It is “really confused, with too many sections not knowing what others are doing, and doing stuff without consultation in the affected communities.”

5 thoughts on “Health And Death


    Sick New Zealanders get access to far fewer new prescription drugs than Australians, and have to wait years longer for those that are approved, a damning report has found.

    A trans-Tasman study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal shows just 43 per cent of medications subsidised in Australia in the past decade were also subsidised for New Zealand patients.

    Kiwis missed out on 76 drugs that treat a wide range of conditions including cancers, dementia, depression, asthma, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease and others for which there are no reimbursed drugs listed.

    Australians missed out on just four medications approved here.

    Drug registration took nine months longer in New Zealand and, once registered, Kiwi patients had to wait two years longer than Australians to get a subsidised prescription.

  2. New Zealand is very similar to Soviet medicine. Poked, prodded, then dismissed unless you are dying,or they will perform some very simple blood screen. They may throw some cheap generic drug from the 1970s at you. This link to a Canadian story is descriptive.

  3. Weight Watchers New Zealand endorses McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets as a healthy food worthy of losing weight on, and has put its logo on them and on that fish sandwich. New Zealand is 2nd in the world for McDonald’s restaurants per capita. With their incessant “green” boasting and all the Kiwi jokes about fat Americans, these facts may come as a surprise to people.

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