The shameful treatment of Dr Huhana Hickey highlights an ambulance service not fit to keep


Woman wheeled herself to hospital when ambulance couldn’t take her wheelchair

A disabled woman with Covid-19 symptoms and a multiple sclerosis flare-up says she waited 12 hours for an ambulance and when it finally arrived, paramedics couldn’t take her to hospital. So she wheeled herself there.

Dr Huhana Hickey (Ngāti Tāhinga, Whakatōhea), who is a highly regarded disability advocate and sits on a number of regional and national health boards, was admitted to Middlemore Hospital after arrival, and also tested positive for Covid-19.

When she was discharged five days later, Hickey had to wheel herself home because there weren’t any shuttles or taxis available to accommodate her wheelchair.

She said the experience left her feeling “bloody angry”.

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I have had the privilege of interviewing Dr Huhana Hickey when I hosted Waatea 5th Estate on Sky TV, she is someone I always listen to and as far as I am concerned is one of the leading voices for the disabled community in NZ.

I have an enormous respect for her intellect, her insight and her role as a voice for a community who get treated poorly by society.

That she had to go through such a humiliating experience by the Ambulance service who were not only late but when they did turn up at midnight couldn’t transport her in her wheelchair.

I have never understood why the Christ our Ambulance service isn’t publicly owned, that would force them to have to consider all members of the community so there aren’t humiliating experiences like this.

The Government must consider nationalising the Ambulance service, dramatically upgrading it and dump the user pays charges.

This is a disgraceful humiliation of a disability advocate who deserves so much better than this treatment. The manner in which the disability community are always left behind in decision making is shameful! News that budget cuts to State Housing will see disability access dumped is an outrageous example of this terrible treatment of the disability community…

The Greens want the Government to rule out cutting back on a programme that makes state houses accessible for people with disabilities in a bid to save money.

A leaked paper from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development warned that state housing agency Kāinga Ora’s borrowing was becoming unsustainable.

The paper suggested suspending programmes to improve heating and removing “accessibility improvements” from Kāinga Ora’s retrofit programme as ways of saving money, as well as leaving remote locations which were high cost.

Green Party spokeswoman for disabled people Jan Logie urged Housing Minister Megan Woods to rule out accepting that recommendation.

…disability can randomly strike us at any time, that we treat people who have been dealt a vulnerable hand in life with such contempt is an indictment on us as a society.


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  1. That St John still operates on the basis of cake stalls and begging for 1/4 of its funding is an utter mockery.

    Our ministers would do well to find out what happens when one requires one only to find it never arrives. And yes, Andrew Little has written off any changes to the ambulance service because as always, he knows better. Tool!

    I feel very sorry for that woman. Totally unacceptable!

  2. I must admit when I first heard ambulances AMBULANCES where a charity provision in an allegedly 1st world country..WTF just WTF??

    As for the supergenius who thought commissioning ambulances that can’t take wheelchairs FFS should be sacked….such a patently stupid decision that defies explanation as anything other than malice.

    every dollar of charity provision in the social sphere constitutes a failure of government.

    • Well the government does actually fund around 80% of St. John’s services through contracts apparently. Clearly they need to contract more or buy it? Not sure how would go down with the owners

        • I am not talking about feelings. It’s a local charity that is somehow part of a global organisation isn’t it? Are they selling? May be that would make sense now if there is only one board to make the call, not 20.

  3. Umm, well, yes. Those of us who actually question and challenge the abysmal state of our healthcare system only end up second class citizens and pariahs. Anybody capable of bringing about positive change has been recently purged from within and only the followers remain. Advice – get yourself to hospital and don’t expect to leave in a better state than when you arrived.

  4. Growing up with a disability in this country hasnt been great, right from the beginning at primary school I missed out on so much education, no attempt was made to correct that, so many gaps in my education meant the only work options were blue collar type roles.
    The disability services were only ever good at warming their own seats rather than helping you find work. The level of discrimination in this country against the disabled means finding work is next to impossible.
    Then we have ACC that wont help even if you have a work accident, they keep falling back on their ‘pre-existing condition’ BS and you get stuck on the glacially slow public health system and get to watch your best years evaporate as you sit at home waiting for surgery.
    MSD lump you in with the unemployed and treat you the same, its not my fault I ended up in that position, its not like I did something stupid to get that disability, I was born with it.
    Had a Mainstream placement once, was a scheme to get long term disabled back into the workforce, was only 2 years and then when my contract ended National was in charge and I got fired, was my last full time job, yeah its been that long. During their term they shut that program down. They also shut down the ability for people on the invalids benefit from getting a free education.
    Labour has come along and done a welfare expert advisory group review but have sat on all 24 of the recommendations. They also did a review on disability and now all we have is another level of beurocracy but its basically just MSD in another wrapper, no help for the actual disabled.
    Realistically Im going to die with no change to any of this, the govt no matter what they say dont really care. We are a burden and all the health system is designed for is normal people, not the disabled.
    Feel sorry for Huhana, she has it tough but then we all do that are disabled, its good she is able to get front cover news, the rest of us just keep getting shoved aside and forgotten.

  5. Terrible! But I am puzzled that an ambulance can’t take a wheel chair. Anyone know about these things?

    • I should imagine in the confined space of the back of an ambulance a wheelchair is not allowed and would be left for friends/relatives to bring. The patient being the priority of course.

      • most if not all wheelchairs are foldable, lay the patient on the stretcher, put stretcher in back, fold wheelchair stow next to stretcher…..far from ideal but they could have at least tried it, rather than just ‘we don’t take wheelchairs’

  6. Me and my whanau have had amazing service from the ambulance service. My brother in law had to get out of his wheelchair which appeared too wide for ambulance. There must be more issues to the story.

    • They have not been turning up for years and when they do the response time is not fantastic. Exceptional is a quick response. This I know. The system is deliberately under manned to live within its budget. The staff get that 1000 yard stare like any under resourced public service of too few doing too much.

      The problem is not new, it has just got worse, like all things health related in this country.

  7. It just sums up this little depressing country at the moment.

    Don’t blame St John – like most they are charged with making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  8. I feel sorry for this lady but with her knowledge of the system surely she would have been aware that she could not have travelled in the ambulance in her wheelchair. If the system was better the ambulance should be fully funded and built to take wheelchairs. The navy does not need to turn to Lions and Rotorary clubs for funds for a new ship so why do we require ambulances to be only 75 percent funded

  9. While I would be the last person to stand up for landlords, there’s an irony to the fact that government is now considering missing its 2023 guideline for ‘healthy homes’* in state housing, which the private sector was supposed to comply with years ago.

    A convenient excuse to give a National government to sell off ‘unhealthy’ social housing stock? Who knows.

    * which continues to be nonsense when people can’t afford to run heating because of NATO’s war in Ukraine

  10. The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that this piece is an unnecessary and uncalled for beat up on the ambulance service. Usual conveyance to a hospital for patients using an ambulance is by stretcher (in the back of the ambulance). As stated previously identified limited space in ambulances means that wheel chairs are unnecessary. Images of Dr Hickey indicate hers is a powered chair, which a) don’t fold up and b) given the electrification represent and unnecessary safety risk in close proximity to oxygen supplies. Dr Hickey isn’t being singled out….these restrictions/regulations apply to everyone. Want to take your powered wheelchair to hospital (?), get a taxi van with a ramp.

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