23 Apr 2024

'Life and death situation': Man with cancer had surgery cancelled last minute

7:00 pm on 23 April 2024

Christchurch Hospital. Photo:

Graeme was marked up and sitting in a hospital gown, ready for his cancer operation when he was told his surgery had been cancelled due to staff shortages.

But Health New Zealand says no surgeries were cancelled that day due to staffing shortages at Christchurch Hospital.

Graeme had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in December and was waiting for his surgery at Christchurch Hospital - scheduled for last Friday.

He told Checkpoint the cancer he had was "quite aggressive" and the sooner he was operated on, the better.

Having a long wait for the surgery already was "pretty dodgy".

"[It] makes you feel like it might be growing inside you, which it is. The sooner you can get it out, the better."

Graeme finally got his surgery date and was in a hospital gown, having already met with the surgeon and had a marking put on his body for where the incision would be made.

He waited an hour before an anaesthetist came in with the bad news - the operation would not go ahead as the hospital was short of technicians.

Graeme told Checkpoint could not understand how the hospital was short as surgeries had already taken place that day.

"I was gutted, I was just gutted. It was terrible to prepare yourself for a major operation, to be told to go home and come back in two weeks' time because 'we are short of technicians'."

He was never given any detail as to why technicians were not available.

But Health New Zealand said in a statement that no planned surgeries were cancelled at Christchurch Hospital on Friday due to staff shortages.

"A non-clinically urgent surgery was deferred on Friday afternoon due to a morning surgery running overtime as a result of complications. Due to the morning overrun the medical team determined the afternoon surgery couldn't safely start.

"We acknowledge how distressing it is for patients who have planned for, and are expecting, their surgery to have it deferred at short notice. The deferred surgery has been rescheduled."

But Graeme said the surgery was "a life and death situation, it's not an accounting situation, its life and death for me".

"Those people need to buck their game up What are we living in? A third world country?"

In a letter to the unions dated 17 April, Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand set out a raft of cost-cutting measures.

Hospitals have been ordered to end double shifts, not backfill staff when people were sick, cut back on public holiday staffing and encourage more people to take annual leave.

Graeme said it was "disastrous" and while the government gave landlords a break, it was cutting costs on people's health.

He said the government could "stick" its tax cuts.

"I want a proper health system, not tax cuts. I want to know that when I'm diagnosed with cancer that they will do something about it quick-smart."

Graeme's surgery had been rescheduled and he would now be seen under the public sector - but questioned how the health sector was saving money by paying for him to go private.

"How is that a saving?"

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