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Guest Opinion: The Sickness in Public Health

The Sickness in Public Health.

Guest Opinion From Dave Taggart

There are myriad strange events occurring within New Zealand’s Public Health delivery. District Health Boards in both Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki have decided to close rural maternity units, ostensibly because rural people are no longer prodigiously reproductive. Doubtless, other DHBs will follow suit because, in truth, it’s a cost-cutting exercise.

Christchurch DHB has decided to close Hanmer Springs rehabilitation centre and sell the land. Hawke’s Bay DHB is desperate to sell Napier Hospital. Each of these acts is tantamount to theft of public property, either by simple denial of services or by land sale.

Napier City had a hospital for well over a century; its site being designated as ‘permanent’ by Law in the late-1800s. Napier Hospital lost its surgical capabilities during the National Government reforms of the 1990s, but the 50,000 plus residents were promised that the remaining public health services in the city would continue to be delivered from the site.

The promises both of successive Prime and Health Ministers were broken in 1997. In a farcical consultation process, three unanimous public meetings and more than 91 percent of 6,804 written submissions were ignored by Public Servants, as were two previous petitions to Parliament, each with 30,000 plus signatures. An inadequate, ridiculously expensive privately owned ‘Health Centre’ was forced upon Napier as a substitute.

Now the Crown is forcing the sale of Napier Hospital, an issue of which there has been no public consultation at all, not even a farce of one. As with regard to the Queen Mary Hospital land at Hanmer Springs, these Government-directed DHB actions are wrong and iniquitous.

While DHBs consistently run financial deficits, the Ministry of Health has swollen its bureaucratic ranks by approximately 20 percent since Labour took control of New Zealand in 1999. The ‘management culture’ of the 1990s is still alive and well in the public health system. A rough calculation shows that the Hawke’s Bay DHB employs one ‘manager’ for every 12.5 staff. The ratios are similar for other DHBs. Meanwhile, functioning, necessary services are being closed (‘rationalised’) throughout the country.

Instead of hospitals, we are getting an increase of privately-owned ‘Health Centres’ which, all too often, are merely glorified ‘band-aid dispensers’. What was once deemed ‘free’ public health is now ‘user-pays’ by stealth. We are still taxed for ‘free’ public health services, but when we go to use them they are all-to-often not there.

There is an old maxim; “Indifference is injustice’s incubator”. The Napier Public Health Action Group Inc (Box 471 Napier) is interested in linking with other groups across the country to fight the continuing inadequacies of public health provision and the related injustices such as the above proposed land sales. Let’s reclaim what is rightfully ours.

- - Dave Taggart, Napier Public Health Action Group Inc.

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