Heather Roy's Diary 09 May 2003
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My article on SARS, a previously unknown type of infectious pneumonia, attracted a lot of feedback last week and there have been some new developments this week. The virus continues to spread in China despite improved efforts from the Chinese government and the beginnings of international co-operation. It has been revealed today that the virus can live up to six days outside the body and this resilience will make it harder to control. The government is considering putting thermal sensors in airports to detect people with a fever, allowing them to be quarantined. The authorities have considerable powers to detain people with infectious disease. They are currently seldom used but the regulations will be getting a dusting off.
Michael's Midnight Madness
Finance Minister Cullen is terrified his budget next week will be tainted by bad news stories such as tax increases. So extra-ordinary urgency was called on Tuesday this week but was shrouded in secrecy until minutes before the debate began. Initially there were not't even enough copies of the bill to go around. We were told it was a health and excise issue. Usually extra-ordinary urgency is only called for increasing taxes on items such as cigarettes or alcohol and the legislation is introduced and run through the house quickly so people don't have the opportunity to "stock-up". There is no Select Committee process - therefore no public scrutiny and little opportunity for opposition members to research the facts. Interestingly the United Future MPs came to the debating chamber with well prepared notes.
Jim Anderton was the Minister in charge of the bill on the night and his introductory remarks told us the legislation was increasing excise duty on alcoholic beverages between 13% and 24%. Alcopops or RTDs (ready to drinks) according to Jim are causing excessively high levels of alcohol consumption in young people and raising the price will apparently stop them from drinking. Well, the basic argument is flawed but the real concern is that alcopops contain 5 - 5.5% alcohol and Jim hadn't realised until half an hour into the debate that he had completely missed the boat. So we were expected to debate through he night for something that wasn't even intended. That's what happens when you rush legislation through without due process.
$4 billion for 4 million people
Two weeks ago Statistics New Zealand announced that our 4 millionth citizen was about to be born. At the same time Michael Cullen announced a probable $4 billion surplus which will be formally announced on budget night. There is some thinking that a large surplus is an indication that the Finance Minister is unable to balance his books because the NZ worker is too highly taxed. If the money that we have been overtaxed was given back to us every NZ man, woman and child would receive $1,000. With that we could save for our retirement, pay for our children to go to fee paying schools if we choose or (very dear to my heart) buy private health insurance. This large surplus proves what ACT has been saying for years - a lower, flatter tax rate is realistic. We believe a top tax rate of 25 cents in the dollar and a lower rate of 18% is realistic. We think New Zealanders can spend the
A report (of a patient survey) comparing New Zealand's health system with that of Australia, Canada, Britain and the USA has been used to criticise our hospital staff for making too many errors. Professor Peter Davis, a sociologist better known as Helen Clark's husband and a severe critic of the medical profession, predictably joined the lament. The Health and Disability Commissioner has commented that the findings of are "absolutely consistent" with the issues raised in complaints received by his organisation. However a thorough reading of the report carried out by the Harvard School of Medicine reveals a very different picture. Most of the criticisms by patients mentioned in the report were of Government policy, particularly long waiting times and staff shortages. When patients were asked to rate their own physicians the New Zealand doctors got all the honours - they were Diagnosis of the problem (68%) Length of Consultation (72%) Accessibility by phone or in person (68%) Listening carefully to health concerns (76%) Treating with dignity and respect (83%)
I would have called this an impressive performance but the determination to blame our medical staff at the front line for failures in the system continues despite evidence to the contrary. What in fact these patients are telling us is that the system is letting them down, not the doctors.
The budget - my first in Parliament.
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