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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Battle of the Somme - 90th Anniversary of New Zealand's involvement

In a week of anniversaries, including the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, September 15 marks the 90th anniversary of the deployment of New Zealand soldiers at the Somme.

As was the case for most of the First World War, the front line of the Western Front had been all but stationary in September 1916, and a decision was made to "break through" at the village of Flers. Tanks were used for the first time, and with a bold attack by the infantry, it was briefly thought the German defences would be pierced.

As is well known the offensive bogged down in mud, the Germans brought in reserves, and another stalemate position was achieved at terrible human cost.

Around two thousand Kiwis were killed and seven thousand injured - the worst casualties of WWI.

Lessons were learned by the Allied High Command that were to pay dividends later - but the pace of that learning was painfully slow. Many conclusions have been drawn from the disasters of the Somme and it remains a by-word for the high human cost of war.

Hodgson's Choice continued...

Last week we had the news that Waitemata District Health Board was facing an impossible situation - to cull the waiting lists by 800 by the end of September or lose $3 million in funding. While this is the only board we know the figures for, the other 20 District Health Boards will all be facing Health Minister Pete Hodgson's 'choice' between their patients and their funding.

The September 30 deadline is fast approaching - boards are under a lot of pressure, and things have been complicated again this week by a radiographers strike. Without x-rays, even more surgery has been cancelled around the country. Patients on waiting lists who need to be rescheduled outside the Ministry of Health's 6-month time limit can expect a letter saying they are officially discharged and have been referred back to their GP - many without being seen at all by a hospital specialist.

Labour's Health Roundabout

Associate Health Minister, Damian O'Connor, was at pains in Parliament this week to point out that the Waitemata DHB was not facing any penalty if they didn't meet their target numbers by the end of the month. Obviously the DHB doesn't agree, because clinicians have been urged via email to check their lists daily and discharge any patients who didn't attend first specialist appointments or couldn't be rescheduled within the Ministry's 6-month limit. The leaked email (which can be read at also re-enforced the importance of complying with the Government's "six-months-or-bust" directive.

This is a hard-line approach that the District Health Board has been forced into. $3 million is a lot of money for a board to lose - the equivalent of 200 hip replacements, 2600 grommet operations for children with glue ear, 1000 cataract operations or 30,000 first specialist appointments at a cost of $100 each.

The effect of this most recent culling is predictable. Patients will be sent back to GPs without being seen – they'll still require specialist assessment or further treatment that GPs are unable to provide, so will be referred back to hospital where they will go to the bottom of the list and wait all over again. This is akin to travelling around a roundabout without being allowed to exit at the right place, but instead being made to take the exit you started at, before embarking on the journey again.


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