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Heather Roy's Diary - 8 December 2006

Heather Roy's Diary

The Two-Child Policy?

Political 'spin' is the art of finding trendy words to hide unpopular ideas. Even normally intelligent people can be drawn in by "carbon neutrality" or "sustainability", and it's only by digging that we find out what these buzzwords really mean. So it was that a small, deeply green group called "Sustainable Wellington Net" was unearthed advocating that families should limit themselves to having two children.

To give some credit, they're slightly more generous than the "one child" policy of Communist China, but I agree with BNZ Chief Economist Tony Alexander, who said that "ultimately, this is where the deep greens' argument becomes unstuck, because the planet would be better without any humans on it". Like Tony Alexander I have five children and I can't help wondering if he, like me, would like these "deep greens" to tell us which three out of our respective five we should put back?

Health 2006

In the same way that Sustainable Wellington Net obviously considers the planet would be a better place without people it is often joked that hospitals would run so much more smoothly if they didn't have patients to contend with. As the year winds up it is a good time to look at the year that was in the health sector.

Next Wednesday 3000 hospital service workers have announced their intention to strike, causing further disruption to public hospital services. Industrial action has set the scene in health this year showing that all is not well with those working at the coal-face.

2006 strikes include:

* Junior doctors - 5 day strike in June by 200 junior doctors

* Radiation Therapists - 5 day strike in June

* Radiographers - 250 Radiographers engaged in strike action for 5 days in September

* Radiographers - 260 Radiographers, 10 day strike in October

* Laboratory workers - 7 day strike in November/December by 1200 lab workers

Waiting Lists culled:

The strike action added to the woes of those on waiting lists, with further cancellations of surgery and delays to out-patient appointments. District Health Boards were instructed to tidy up waiting lists, in reality dumping anyone waiting more than Labour's six month time limit for assessment or treatment. Those who refused would lose funding, so DHBs had little choice but to send large numbers of people back to their family GP because they couldn't be seen in time. The actual numbers of patients affected by the waiting list culling are hard to pin down, but were in the tens of thousands, with 4500 from Canterbury alone. The real problem is that because of the way the Ministry of Health collects figures it is impossible to tell how many Kiwis need treatment but cannot get it - which is very convenient for a government that is failing New Zealanders.


Research strongly suggests that Herceptin halves the re-occurrence of HER-2 positive breast cancer, yet PHARMAC steadfastly refuses to fund this medication. The government had a billion dollars to give to "Mallard's Folly" on the Auckland waterfront, but nothing to offer a chance of survival to women suffering from this type of cancer. PHARMAC quickly followed up its latest rebuff of Herceptin with the announcement that it had successfully underspent its budget last year by $19million.

Pathology Services:

Diagnostic MedLab - provider of laboratory services to Aucklanders for the past 70 years - lost the contract to perform test in Auckland to a new provider with no laboratory, no staff, and no track record. Aucklanders are rightly fearful about the viability of services from 1 July 2007.

In Wellington, patients referred for tests by private specialist will have to pay for services which their GP or public specialists can prescribe for free. This widens the gap between public and private treatment even further, but Health Minister Pete Hodgson says all these changes to pathology services are just fine with Labour.

Primary Care:

Five years after the introduction of Primary Health Organisations, at the cost of an extra $1.2billion, there have been no significant measurable health gains. This expensive government experiment has cost a huge amount, tipped previously good after hours services into chaos, and many people just can't find a GP that will take them onto their books. The GP shortage continues, but the government is in denial.

Maternity Services:

There are continuing problems with the funding of Maternity Services and the number of midwives is at a critically low level. Many pregnant women cannot find a midwife to register with, and only a handful of GPs now deliver babies, having been effectively driven out of this branch of medicine.

There are many other areas with difficulties too, but it is time to concentrate on some answers.

The Right Prescription

Health professionals are expected to be grateful for whatever government gives them - yet they are the reason the health system does not collapse. They often have no choice of who they work for, because the government is their monopoly employer.

The artificial barrier between private and public should be torn down to allow better access to services for all. Both private and public providers play a role in making Kiwis healthier. When people are in need of help, it shouldn't matter where the services come from.

Better health starts with better lifestyles, proper food and exercise. Even Santa could benefit from a little time in the gym this Christmas.


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