ACT New Zealand Whangarei-based Associate Health Spokesman Dr Muriel Newman today accused Health Minister Annette King of double standards with regard to Kaitaia Hospital's after-hours services.
"Tomorrow's Northland District Health Board meeting, to discuss the future of Kaitaia Hospital's 24-hour seven-day surgical cover, is merely the latest episode in a saga involving Ms King," said Dr Newman.
"Before the election, the Minister swept into Northland and restored after-hours surgical cover in the wake of public uproar. She established an Independent Review Team to monitor the situation and left - with the entire controversy conveniently swept under the carpet.
"The Review Team claims it can find no reason for the hospital to continue its services, for clinical and cost reasons. And the Minister would be happy to see these services cut. Yet in 1998, as Opposition Health Spokesman, Annette King attacked the National Government's plan to limit surgical services in Kaitaia stating it would be `an absolute disaster'.
"She also stated `that lives will be threatened is beyond doubt. The Far North region is a huge area. Rural people needing emergency medical treatment will find themselves hours away from their closest hospital'.
"Now, as Health Minister, in an act of profound hypocrisy, she will be overseeing the very limiting of surgical services she so bitterly complained about.
"Northland DHB faces deficits of around $5.5 million this year, and next. That means this Government is under funding Northland health services on a massive scale. The board has already announced a $1.7 million budget blowout this month, stating that some health services will have to be cut. Kaitaia hospital surgical services are clearly a target.
"The problems facing Kaitaia Hospital are driven by resource pressure, due to Labour's health funding cuts. That the Northland DHB is one of a dozen boards which - seven months into the financial year - have not signed off their annual plans, is a symptom of the Minister's incompetent leadership.
The people of Kaitaia deserve an assurance that any changes to services are driven by clinical needs, not funding cuts. In spite of her hand wringing in 1998, the Minister can now give no such assurance, Dr Newman said.