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Turner: Children's Health Neglected By Govt

Media Statement For immediate release Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Turner: Children's health neglected by Govt

New Zealand is going into an election year with children with rotting teeth from a lack of dental care, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems from an inadequate school testing regime, third world illnesses and burgeoning obesity and diabetic epidemics, United Future deputy leader Judy Turner said today.

"That is the shameful reality we face," she said.

"Oh, and we have one specialist child psychiatrist for the Auckland region - now who would say we place a high priority on our children?" she asked, following on party leader Peter Dunne yesterday committing United Future to making strengthening families the key election issue.

"These are the realities we need to be looking at when we consider our children and our families," Mrs Turner, who has been pushing for a select committee inquiry into the deeply flawed school vision and hearing testing programme, said.

"The reality is that successive governments have massively neglected and underfunded the fundamentals of child health, and that has to stop.

The problem is clearly evident at district health board level where there is considerable policy but little consistent action.

"Some DHBs are making concerted efforts with the establishment of child and youth advisory committees while others have no interest and one even disbanded its committee.

"The Government can invest in education at all levels, but unwell, unhealthy children can't and don't learn. They suffer and they fall behind and they become uneducated and unhealthy adults.

"United Future is the only party that puts families first. It is the only party that gets serious about putting basic health issues at the top of the list of our national concerns," she said.

Mrs Turner highlighted a number of points where children are being badly served:

* Disparities in services across the country - variable DHB investment.

* Maori and Pacific island children's health statistics continue to be constantly poorer than Pakeha children.

* Massive differences between DHBs in the quality, access and co-ordination of children's specialist services. This means that the children with the greatest need may have to be sent to a different area to get help, or just simply may not receive the help they need. For example, the problem of children needing to be placed in adult wards continues - against agreed best practice.

* Also, the need for specialist mental health services (one specialist child psychiatrist for Auckland).

* The Paediatric Society has labelled support for families with special "chaotic and unfair"; there is no national consistency and funding differs in each area, not based at all on need.

* Dental care in disarray - the Wellington School Dental Service report to the Ministry of health recently said:

- "The service faces severe staff shortages and many clinics do not reach health and safety standards." Also that the existing system is "unsustainable" and recommends scrapping the region's 92 traditional school-based clinics and replacing them with 12 community based centres.

* Problems with vision-hearing screening programme.

* Whooping cough -a potentially fatal disease and despite immunisation being free, there is an unprecedented epidemic sweeping the country.

* Obesity

* Ministry of Health reports showing increasing numbers of children presenting at hospital with preventable conditions.

"We've been selling our children short for too long," Mrs Turner said.

Ends.

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