I confess to mixed emotions about health care in New Zealand.

My first exposure to the local medical world was my initial “introductory” meeting with my new personal physician.

Being a freshly-arrived rural resident, I was nervous about the business of collecting and drinking one’s roof water. I asked the doctor if it was OK. His reply: “How have you been feeling ‘down there’”? My answer: “No problems.” His verdict: “Then I guess it must be OK.” Hmmm, I thought.

But, this exchange occurred during a one-hour session during which it became very clear that the doctor had studied my records thoroughly and was completely prepared with clarifying questions and insights. In the States, I’d be lucky to get that kind of time and attention if I had a brain tumor! I was reassured.

Then, on two occasions, my wife managed to break a bone whilst partaking of the Hawke’s Bay lifestyle. Both required visits to the hospital emergency room. In both cases, the necessary treatment was acceptably prompt and competently performed.

Finally, a few days ago, my son and daughter-in-law, who now live here, gave birth to their first child. Mother and child (and father) are all healthy and happy. To my knowledge, they never saw a doctor. The whole flawless process was (and continues to be) overseen by midwives (thanks, Angelica and Bronwyn). A sharp contrast to practices in the States, where doctors rule.

So, my personal experiences of the health system so far have been totally positive.

On the other hand, not a day goes by when the media does not report some apparent illness in the health system.

Strikes, from senior doctors to maintenance workers, for grievances that generally sound reasonable. Missing and unread medical records. Long waits and even cancellations of surgeries because of chronic under-staffing. Public warnings to “stay away” when hospital resources are over-burdened. Alleged conflicts of interest within district health boards. Inadequate funding of new treatments and drugs (as for breast cancer). And in the worst cases, death-causing misdiagnosis and mistreatment.

Want to keep rich foreigners away? Just run an ad with a month’s worth of NZ health/medical headlines in the Los Angeles, New York and London Times!

Maybe all these situations just happen to make it into the newspapers more often here than I am accustomed to. Or maybe they are actually evidence of a sick system.

As the headline says, I have mixed feelings about it. What about you?

Is the NZ health system sick? Or just suffering from bad press?

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