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Plunket Line's problems entirely predictable

Plunket Line's problems entirely predictable

Sunday 9 Jan 2005

Heather Roy - Press Releases - Health

Young Kiwi mums and dads' worst fears about the Labour Government's merger of Plunket Line into Healthline have been realised, said ACT Health spokesman Heather Roy today.

In November last year the two services effectively became one when Plunket Line was moved into the Healthline call centre premises in Wellington.

Mrs Roy said reports that worried parents were left hanging on the phone over the Christmas and New Year period were entirely predictable.

"When my July 2004 parliamentary questions revealed that Plunket Line was to be absorbed into the Ministry of Health-funded Healthline, I predicted that the Plunket Line service would suffer and would lose its unique identity and independent phone number. Sadly these predictions are coming true.

"At the time of the 1999 election Helen Clark and Annette King launched a petition to fully fund a 24-hour Plunket helpline. They pledged that once in office they would ensure Plunket Line never closed due to lack of funding. Now in office however it appears that parents' needs come second to the desire for state control.

"Labour has sold Plunket Line short - presumably to save money and because of its distaste for independent health services.

"Plunket Line was a popular and respected service for 10 years - invaluable to hundreds of thousands of Kiwi parents who relied heavily on its advice from experienced Plunket nurses. Since the merger parents have been reporting that it is harder now than previously to get through, with some reporting long queues and being cut off.

"Staff shortages have also been reported with some parents questioning whether they are actually even speaking to a Plunket nurse. Last year when I spoke to Healthline staff responsible for incorporating the two services, I was told that if parents called asking for a Plunket nurse they would definitely be transferred to one. If this is not happening Healthline is reneging on its assurance that Plunket Line's unique service would be retained.

"The merger was supposedly to improve the service because Plunket Line was using out-dated technology. However a Plunket manager is now saying that since the merger technical faults have plagued the service with calls lost and blockages experienced regionally over December and the holiday period.

"Plunket Line was receiving $1 million of taxpayer funding and its system could have been upgraded for around another $1 million - allowing this valued independent service to continue. Instead the Government chose to boost Healthline's funding by $2 million and merge the two services."

Mrs Roy said indicators all point to the fact that a unique and trusted family service is in serious danger of extinction, with the Plunket Line number not guaranteed beyond July 2005.


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