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Heather Roy's Diary - 12 August 2005

12 August 2005

Heather Roy's Diary

While the country waits with baited breath for Don Brash to announce National's tax policy, (which he assures us will be significant) other parties are rolling out their policies for the election.

On Sunday, Rodney Hide and I will be launching ACT's health policy. The policy will be available on the ACT website - www.act.org- on Sunday afternoon. I have spent the last three years raising the serious issues with our public health system. In preparation for the launch I have reproduced a speech I gave to the Hutt South Grey Power in July. I think it sets the scene.

Promises, Promises

At today's meeting you will hear a lot of spending promises about 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. ACT has 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 problems with assaults on staff, so 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 41 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.


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