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The Good News And The Bad In Health

The Good News And The Bad In Health

Tuesday 12 Apr 2005
Speeches -- Other
Heather Roy MP

Speech to Mana-Tawa Greypower Health Forum; Porirua Club; Tuesday,12 April 2005.

There is good news and bad news in health.

The good news is that life expectancy is rising about 3 months every year. From 1970 to 2000, life expectancy grew by an average eight years per person and there is no sign of it slackening off.

That's the reason everybody wants to sell life insurance. Increased life expectancy has been good for their profits. This good news has nothing to do with the government - in fact; the good news is despite what Labour has done to our health system.

Increasing life expectancy is a worldwide phenomenon and reflects growth in scientific and medical knowledge. There have been too many advances to specify here but I'll mention a couple by way of illustration.

My father had a heart attack a few years ago that would have killed him had he had it ten years earlier. Fortunately he was able to receive the drug streptokynase that dissolves blood clots in the heart's blood vessels and the "coronary" was resolved before it could do irrepairable harm.

My mother-in-law was recently showing signs of memory impairment suggestive of the untreatable Alzheimer's disease. I am pleased to say that treatments for this now exist and my mother-in-law is responding well to treatment that she must pay for herself.

This is because PHARMAC- the Government's drug buying agency, claim these drugs don't work and won't subsidise them. Yet, they are available in other western countries.

So, the science of medicine is in good order and the advances are visible to anyone who can read scientific journals in the library.

Now for the bad news.

There is no commitment from the Labour Government to maintain a first class health system. Labour's Health Minister Annette King, has said that New Zealand cannot afford a first world system like that enjoyed by the USA, Australia, Britain and continental Europe. The simple fact is, we aren't getting first class health care.

And the news gets worse.

A World Health Organisation report has put New Zealand at number 49 in a list of health systems rated on quality. Our staff know things are better overseas and are leaving in large numbers. We are training our doctors, nurses and health professionals for export. Most days' specialist shortages at yet another hospital hit the headlines. Last year it was radiotherapists, last week it was Brain Surgeons.

The fact is, there are specialist shortages in virtually every health discipline.

So, why do our medical and nursing staff flee the country? One answer can be had in the Honourable John Tamihere's recent interview with "Investigate" magazine, published last week. As we all know Mr Tamihere was venting his spleen but it contained some accurate observations. This is what he said about hospitals:

The biggest sweatshops we've got are hospitals, run by the government and funded by the government.

My husband is a doctor at Hutt hospital, where they have had to employ security guards in Accident and Emergency, because of assaults on staff. The hospital is spending money it can't afford so that nurses, tending the sick, don't get beaten up by drunken thugs. This is the country we have become in 2005. Twenty years ago, if somebody had bashed a nurse tending the sick, they would have been lucky to ever see the light of day again. Now it's difficult to get the police to even respond.

The bad news now begins to get ugly. Earlier this year, I highlighted the Ministry of Health's own figures, giving the death rate for each region of patients on waiting lists. The death rate has risen 40% over the last two years and the Minister has yet to give a satisfactory response. Even if she said she didn't know why, that would have at least been an answer of sorts.

Last week, again using Ministry of Health figures, I highlighted the fact that between September and December last year - a three-month period - the number of people waiting for a first specialist assessment rose by more than 5,000. Of those, over 2,000 had been waiting for more than 6 months. We now have 118,000 patients in New Zealand, who have been referred by their family doctor to a specialist, waiting to be seen. These people don't even factor in waiting list figures.

Of course statistics don't tell the real story. The statistics hide the real suffering. One such tale is that of a 90-year-old Hawke's Bay lady. Her grandson contacted me to ask for help. She is going blind while she waits (9 months so far) for her cataracts to be operated on. She has gone from living independently on her own, to requiring a great deal of assistance in her home. Soon she will be unable to cope and require residential care. All for the sake of an operation that costs $25 for the Fred Hollows Foundation to perform. I suspect that each of you here today knows of someone in a similar situation.

ACT believes these problems could be dealt with overnight by allowing the public sector to co-operate with private hospitals to perform operations. ACC does 80% of its surgery privately, but public hospitals are instructed to do operations "in house".

Many older New Zealanders have decided to abandon their health insurance policies, mainly due to their cost. Unfortunately the Government thinks it is acceptable to make people pay twice for their healthcare - once through taxation and again through health insurance - with no recognition that they relieve the burden on the health system. ACT says that taking financial responsibility for health should be rewarded and options for doing this should be explored.

Health bureaucracy must be reduced. The Health Ministry continues to grow and valuable health dollars are being taken away from front line care. District Health Boards have to cope with the Holidays Act, Nursing pay rises and administrative demands, that divert money from patient care. In each of the last two financial years, the Government has thrown more money at the health sector, yet productivity in our country's hospitals has dropped.

We have an aging population with high health needs and diabetes and obesity epidemics. The way health is run at the moment is not working. It is time to abandon political ideology and look to new ideas, so we have the best quality treatment at the best cost in the best time for all kiwis. ACT has these ideas.


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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