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NZ Venerological Society Sexual Health Conference

Hon Annette King Speech Notes

Good morning. Thank you for the invitation to open your conference today. I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you today about the Government’s vision for health, particularly in relation to sexual and reproductive health.

Before I do so, however, I would like to congratulate Dr Anne Robertson, Joanne Leamy, and the rest of the conference organising committee for arranging such an excellent programme. I can see how much effort the committee must have made to coordinate an outstanding range of speakers, who will be discussing a number of controversial issues.

I would also like to acknowledge briefly how pleased I am about the theme of this year's conference, ‘Walk the Talk’. It is vital that we do talk about issues relating to sexual health. What is even more important is the commitment to act.

I am certain this conference will have positive outcomes for the sexual health of New Zealanders, and I look forward to hearing about the outcome of your conference deliberations.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy

You will be pleased to learn that the Health Funding Authority and the Ministry of Health are working together to develop a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health strategy.

The Strategy will include:
 sexual and reproductive health services as a public health service
 a comprehensive free specialist sexual health service close to the community
 sexually transmitted disease control to ensure that at risk groups have access to effective education programmes
 disease control of HIV/AIDS as a sexually transmitted disease
 an emphasis on effective and available services for Maori, Pacific people and young people.

I expect most of you will also know that Improving sexual and reproductive health is also included as an objective in the New Zealand Health Strategy discussion document I launched in June. I will be talking more about this document shortly, but it includes eight key goals, one of which is called Healthy Lifestyles. Improving sexual and reproductive health appears as an objective under this heading.

Development of the sexual and reproductive health strategy development involves the Health Funding Authority undertaking a stocktake of sexual and reproductive health services. It is crucial that we establish a clear picture of current service provision so that we can plan for effective services that will improve health outcomes, particularly for young people.

We need to find out where the gaps in coverage are, where the higher areas of need are, and what we need to prioritise.

One of the real issues in terms of all health services, including sexual health services, is the status of the health workforce. Since July a small sector group and officials have been working on the terms of reference for a Health Workforce Advisory Committee to provide me with independent advice on workforce issues. There are serious shortages across many areas of our health workforce, and many of these shortages can be attributed to a lack of planning in the past. This shortfall in planning is preventing us moving as quickly as we would all wish to move to make our public health service as good as it could be.

I am very pleased, therefore, to be able to announce at this conference today that the terms of reference for the committee have been agreed, and have now been approved by the Cabinet. The committee's key tasks will be:
 To provide an independent assessment for the Minister of Health of current workforce capacity and foreseeable workforce needs to meet the objectives of the New Zealand Health and Disability strategies.
 To advise the Minister on national goals for the health workforce and recommend strategies to develop an appropriate workforce capacity.
 To facilitate cooperation between organisations involved in health workforce education and training to ensure a strategic approach to health workforce supply, demand and development.
 And to report progress on the effectiveness of various strategies and identify required changes.

As you can see, the committee has a broad brief under which it can provide independent advice. Its work will involve analysing historic patterns, current demands, and, most importantly, it will be involved with planning for the future. We cannot continue to allow our health workforce to lag behind public expectations of the health service.

Forgive me for that diversion from the stocktake, but the work of the Health Workforce Advisory Committee is going to be so important that I wanted to be able to release the terms of reference at the first opportunity I had.

But to return to the stocktake, that will give us an accurate picture of what we are doing well, and what areas we need to improve. This will ultimately mean the public gets a more consistent sexual health service wherever they go in New Zealand, and that providers will have some certainty about future provision.

There will also be a summary of service evaluations undertaken in the previous five years. The HFA will have this part of the process completed by the end of December this year. This information will form the basis of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Evidence shows that young people are becoming sexually active at a younger age. I do not get much opportunity in my job to watch television, other than the news, but staff in my office tell me that Martin and Gail Platt's 13-year-old daughter has become pregnant in Coronation Street. Now I am not sure whether Coronation Street is a barometer of the times or not, but if young people are sexually active then it is important that they use condoms and other methods of contraception.

The latest quarterly report of sexually transmitted infections, as seen by sexual health clinics, confirms that rates of gonorrhoea in New Zealand are increasing. I am sure you share my concern about the increasing number of cases being reported. The figures show New Zealanders are still not having safe sex. The importance of using condoms cannot be overemphasised.


New Zealand Health Strategy

When the sexual and reproductive health strategy is developed, it will fall under the umbrella, as I mentioned before, of the New Zealand Health Strategy. So will a number of other documents, including, to mention just two of the most important, the primary health care strategy and the mental health strategy. This Government is committed to developing a number of population-based strategies in order to raise the health status of all New Zealanders.

I am delighted with the response we have had to the New Zealand Health Strategy Discussion Document. We received more than 600 written and oral submissions. The Ministry of Health has just completed analysing these submissions and is working on an amended version of the strategy based on the feedback received. The strategy will be finalised and released later this year. It is critical that all views from the health sector are encompassed into the final strategy. The final strategy, however, will by no means be a static document. It will be living and flexible. It will be evolutionary, changing to meet the changing needs of New Zealand’s population.

Sitting alongside the New Zealand Strategy is its sister strategy, the New Zealand Disability Strategy on which a discussion document, “Making a World of Difference: Whakanui Oranga” was launched in August. The Disability Strategy, now also open for consultation, should be finalised in early 2001. It too is a high- level intersectoral strategy that will become the blueprint for future disability policy and services. It aims to make the lives of people with disabilities better and to remove barriers that stop people with disabilities from participating in society.

It has been a pleasure speaking to you today. I look forward to future discussions with you, and I wish you well for the rest of your extremely important conference.

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