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Dean wrong on health funding

David Parker

MP for Otago

13 September, 2005 Media Statement

Dean wrong on health funding

Yesterday's press release from Jacqui Dean showed her ignorance on rural health issues. She referred to National's plans for rural GP training. Labour has already introduced this. Check with Dr Pat Farry at the Otago Medical School if you need more details.

Labour has also introduced subsidies for GPs and pharmacists in rural areas to ensure their practices remain viable and accessible to rural people. We have also introduced locum schemes to give those doctors a break, again to maintain the viability of rural health services.

In terms of pay rates for rural hospitals being brought up to city rates, it was me who fought for and achieved that outcome. I wrote to ODHB Chief Executive Brian Rousseau on 7 September 2004 (copy attached) warning him that there was "no logical justification for lesser remuneration or conditions of employment for nurses in regional hospitals. "Indeed this was at the heart of the industrial dispute with nurses at Oamaru Hospital last year," the letter said. I requested that the ODHB include in its budgets the flow on costs of nurses in regional hospitals receiving the MECA wage rise.

Following that letter the DHB has agreed to fund the rural hospitals at the rate required to fund the nurses' pay. Let's not forget the history of this. These rural hospitals were, until now, paying nurses less following the restructuring in the 1990s under National when the predecessor to the DHB, the Otago CHE, unilaterally pulled out of Oamaru, Dunstan and Balclutha hospitals.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Labour government has provided substantial additional money to both rural hospitals and rural GPs.

Just this year the government has broadened the criteria for travel subsidies for people living in rural areas who have to travel to hospitals and specialists. The new criteria will see the number of people eligible for assistance more than double to over 100,000, benefiting many people from rural areas.

The truth of this is readily apparent from the request made by the Waitaki District Hospital for special tax legislation because it has made profits (ie; its funding has exceeded its costs) and that profit is taxable unless special legislation is passed to make it non-taxable. Dr Cullen has agreed for that legislation to proceed and it is in process. The indisputable reality is this would not be necessary if Oamaru Hospital was not running at a profit!

Another reality during my first term as MP is that I helped secure $7.6 million for the rebuilding of Dunstan Hospital, three times the amount being sought from central government for a spruce up of the hospital when I was elected.

In the last week a rural GP in East Otago approached me, unprompted, in the street acknowledging that his practice has been treated far more fairly by the Labour government than any prior government.

There is no doubt that Jacqui Dean's rhetoric, which asserts under funding by central government, is just wrong.

By contrast, National's pledge to keep funding at current levels will undoubtedly reduce funding in real terms to all areas in New Zealand, including rural areas. Their funding promise pretends that health funding can be maintained at current levels when history shows that as our population ages and medical technology improves it must increase every year to keep up.

Voters get their chance on Saturday to decide whether my performance on health issues has been good or, as Jacqui Dean pretends, poor.

ENDS

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