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ACT’s plan to improve NZ’s health system

ACT’s plan to improve NZ’s health system

Heather Roy Speech to ACT health policy launch, Wakefield Hospital, Wellington, Sunday 14 August, 1.30pm

No parent should have to watch their child die, especially when that death was avoidable and unnecessary. But Margaret Webster is not alone. Last year 1,152 people died while on a hospital waiting list.

Health Minister Annette King and her Ministry made me appeal to the Ombudsman for this figure and the statistics that make up the official and the unofficial waiting lists.

Neither Labour nor National want health to be an issue this election. Fixing health is in their “too hard baskets”. Labour claims to have done wonders. But this merely amounts to spending more money - $3.5 billion more this year than in 1999/2000 with no health gains.

The same number of people, over 180,000, are waiting on lists for assessment and treatment today as were waiting when Labour came to power in 1999. Per head of population, fewer operations were performed in the 2003/04 year than 3 years previously. Treasury reports show a drop in productivity for the last two financial years.

There is no evidence that patients have better access to their family doctor than before Primary Health Organisations were introduced and millions extra was poured into primary healthcare to provide cheaper doctors visits.

In fact, for many New Zealanders primary care is dearer than ever before. The taxpayer is getting very poor value for their health dollar. New Zealand’s health system is a demonstration of how state monopolies do not work.

So with an aging population and more sophisticated medical equipment and techniques available every week, we must look to new ways of funding and providing healthcare to Kiwis in the 21st century.

The present blinkered political ideology will only ever result in a monopoly public health system that can only provide significantly rationed services – queues for care where supply is substantially below demand for basic treatment.

There is no doubt that health is a difficult area but we could be doing so much better. ACT is offering a completely different prescription this election.

ACT will restore the standard of New Zealand’s health care system to that of other English speaking countries, particularly Australia and Great Britain.

In order to do that we will abandon the current government’s ideological hostility to private medicine and break down the artificial barrier between private and public.

There is no reason why private hospitals cannot be used to reduce waiting lists. Indeed it is our expectation that many private services will be more efficient than public ones.

ACT understands that our doctors and nurses are doing magnificent work. It is our health professionals that keep the health system afloat, often in the face of appalling mismanagement at higher levels. Their pay and conditions must be competitive.

The power must lie with those who take responsibility – the doctors and nurses. In taking these measures we intend to stem the tide of migration of our health professionals. We want our graduates to stay in New Zealand for the majority of their working lives.

Comprehensive reform of the Ministry of Health is needed. Under the current administration it has become severely dysfunctional despite big increases in staffing. The Ministry needs leadership and a defined role. Frontline staff should make the key decisions and they need to be free to do that unhindered by bureaucratic or political interference.

ACT intends to encourage individuals to take personal responsibility for their own health. We want to encourage people to take out health insurance and we have already announced generous tax breaks to make health insurance and private care more affordable.

Primary care has seen significant change under Labour. ACT will reinstate the funding system where family doctors are paid for each patient visit. Community Services cards will be used to fund healthcare according to need – not based on race or geography.

ACT intends to reinstate enrolled nurse training and allow enrolled nurses to resume work in hospital wards as a respected and appreciated part of the nursing staff.

ACT believes that the move towards community care of psychiatric patients has gone too far. Living rough on the streets and being housed in prisons does not constitute adequate treatment and care. We intend to re-establish some medium and long-term hospital beds for these patients.

But it is waiting lists that have caused the gravest concern.

ACT has three commitments to ease the burden of human suffering.

ACT will cut waiting lists by one third from 180,000 to 120,000 over three years. This will be achieved by removing $250 million of waste from the system and revising policy, thus providing an extra 25,000 operations a year. This $250 million will be ring-fenced and District Health Boards required to contract with private hospitals to reduce the backlog of operations and assessments.

ACT will provide tax breaks so that more people can afford private treatment and health insurance.

Act will cut health bureaucracy and reduce the numbers of members on District Health Boards.

We must stop the waiting and the needless suffering and deaths. ACT’s vision for healthcare in the 21st century is “treatment when you need it.”


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