Promises, Promises - Heather Roy Speech
Wednesday, 13 July 2005
Speeches - Health
Speech to Hutt South Grey Power, Knox Church Hall, Lower Hutt, Wednesday 13 July, 2pm
At today’s meeting you will hear a lot of spending promises as to what the Government will do for you after the election. In the case of the Labour Party and Labour supporter Peter Dunne you might legitimately ask: Why wait until after the election when you are in power right now?
The spenders will argue that the Government’s accounts are in surplus and that there is plenty of scope for increased spending, but we have been down this road before. In the mid 1990s, the New Zealand government piled up large surpluses with Bill Birch as Minister of Finance but in our first MMP election in 1996 New Zealand First held the balance of power. They negotiated a good deal for their party and taking the post of Treasurer they promptly spent their way through the surpluses and the economy went into a deep recession. This was at a time when every other English speaking country was booming and young people and quite a few not-so-young people fled the country in their droves. The lesson was simple: anyone can spend money but it is difficult to spend money wisely.
The litany of waste under the National/ NZ First Government was extensive, but I thought that there was one item that had burned itself into the nation’s consciousness: Tuku Morgan’s $80 underpants became a symbol of waste and extravagance. If the lesson had been learnt it would have been $80 of taxpayers’ money well spent but we seem to be seeing history repeating itself.
Today you will hear promises to have the GST taken off rates, to have electricity subsidised and to have a gold card for health. Some of you may benefit here and there but in the end the people pay for all government spending. The Government has no money of its own; it simply spends other people’s. It can choose to borrow but borrowing simply defers the day of reckoning, as we all know from our household accounts.
So today I’m asking you to ignore electoral bribes and consider what has to be done in the country’s best interest. We in ACT have laboured over the last 3 years to hold the Government responsible for its spending and we have highlighted numerous examples of waste. The Government hates this and responds by becoming ever more secretive. My particular area has been the health sector. It is an area that contains more than its fair share of inefficient spending, but the major challenge faced by the health sector is the loss of doctors and nurses overseas. Having a gold card in your hand isn’t going to help you if there is nobody to see you.
Some of the wasted spending isn’t the health authorities fault. My husband works as a doctor at Hutt Hospital. Three years ago they were having such problems with assaults on staff that security guards were employed in Accident and Emergency. Should a hospital that is already strapped for cash have to spend money on guards so that nurses, tending the sick, don’t get beaten up by drunken thugs in the Casualty Department? Is that the way we want New Zealand to be in the 21st Century?
There is good news in health and there is bad. The good news is that life expectancy is rising at about 3 months per year. From 1970 to 2000 life expectancy grew on average by eight years per person and there is no sign of it slackening off. That’s the reason that 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 technology - 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 of a magnitude that would have killed him had he had it ten years earlier. Fortunately he was able to receive the drug streptokynase, which dissolves blood clots in the blood vessels of the heart, and the “coronary” was resolved before it could do irreparable damage.
My elderly mother-in-law was recently showing signs of memory impairment suggestive of the untreatable Alzheimer’s disease. I am pleased to say that treatments do now exist and that my mother-in-law is responding well to one of them, but she must pay for it herself. PHARMAC- the government’s drug buying agency, claims these drugs don’t work and therefore won’t subsidise them. They are available in other western countries that we compare ourselves favourably with - in particular Australia and Britain.
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 Minister of Health, Annette King, has said that New Zealand cannot afford a first world system like that enjoyed by the USA, Australia, Britain and continental Europe. And the simple fact is that we aren’t getting first class health care.
And the news gets worse…
A World Health Organisation report has put New Zealand as 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 weeks the shortage of specialists at another hospital hits the headlines. It was radiotherapists last year, brain surgeons earlier this year, psychiatrists and general practitioners - family doctors - on an ongoing basis. The simple fact is that virtually every health discipline in almost every specialty is in shortage.
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 then at least that would be some sort of answer.
Ministry of Health figures also highlight the fact that between September and December last year - a three month period - the number of people waiting to see a specialist for the first time rose by more than 5,000 and of those over 2,000 had been waiting for more than 6 months. Here in the Hutt there are 3,484 people waiting for a First Specialist Assessment, 366 of them have been waiting for longer than 6 months. I suspect each of you in this room could name a handful of people that are waiting. Several of you will be on these lists yourselves. We now have 120,000 patients in New Zealand who have been referred by their family doctor to a specialist who are waiting to be seen. These people don’t even factor in waiting list figures.
Just before Labour came to power in 1999, there were 180,000 people on waiting lists. They campaigned hard with the promise to slash these waiting lists. Today there are still 180,000 people on waiting lists. An extra $3.5 billion has gone into health and the same number of people are waiting for treatment.
Of course statistics don’t tell the real story. Those statistics hide real suffering. One such tale is that of a 90 year old lady in the Hawkes Bay - her grandson contacted me to ask for help. She is quickly going blind while she waits (11 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. The Government has promised more cataract surgery - but what will happen to the people going blind with glaucoma. They will now have to wait longer, while the cataracts are seen to first. Picking favourites is not a fair way to run a health system.
ACT says that overnight we could deal with many of these problems by allowing
the public sector to co-operate with the 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 the 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 are having to cope with the Holidays Act, pay rises for nurses and administrative demands that divert money from patient care. In each of the last two financial years productivity in our country’s hospitals has decreased - more money in to produce, less healthcare for Kiwis.
We have an aging population with high health needs and epidemics of diabetes and obesity. 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 for the best cost in the best time for all Kiwis. ACT has these ideas and a Party Vote for ACT will mean they can become a reality.