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Heather Roy's Diary: 0800 DAY OFF

Heather Roy's Diary

0800 DAY OFF

One could be forgiven for assuming this is the number for a tourist company wanting to help you part with your cash when looking for something to do on your day off - think again.

Hard weekend, hangover, just can't be bothered going to work? Then just ring 0800 DAY OFF - the Inland Revenue Department's absence line. Try calling the line - 0800 329 633 for those who struggle with the whole word concept for phone numbers - and you'll be greeted by a cheery voice that invites you to leave your employee number, name and contact phone number. That's all you have to do for a day off at IRD - which sure beats having to explain to your Team Leader why you won't be at work if you're not sick. Not only that, but the taxpayer picks up the bill for the 0800 call - what an employer. Now if that's not sending the wrong message, I don't know what is.

New Birthing Experience: Give Birth, Get Paid, Go Home

It's a well-known fact that Wellington's Capital & Coast District Health Board is plagued by ongoing financial difficulties.

In fact, due to a stubborn $13 million deficit, the DHB has been put under intensive monitoring by the Ministry of Health. To date, this monitoring has achieved precisely ... nothing - adding ever more layers of decision-making can never improve efficiency.

But at least Wellington Hospital could say it was showing imagination when it devised a plan to offer new mothers money to leave the maternity ward within six hours of giving birth.

From a clinical point of view, however, the move was a cop out that would see those mothers most in need receive the least care. Further, little thought was given to the potential harm to the babies as the DHB took a cheap - and desperate - option of offering mothers a $100 voucher just to go home.

What CCDHB has been reluctant to reveal is that Wellington Hospital has a shortage of beds - with a particular problem in maternity, where six of its 40 maternity beds have been closed due to a lack of midwives. The Board and management should have been aware that it would be younger and poorer mothers who would accept the bribe, and then be forced to go home early without the chance to benefit from the expertise offered by hospital staff. How paediatricians could be expected to do examinations for congenital conditions - such as dis-location of the hip - within a six-hour timeframe remained unexplained.

CCDHB's willingness to resort to short-term bribery to free up already congested beds is a symptom of deeper long-term problems, many of which are being experienced nationwide. The Government needs to identify the problems facing Wellington Hospital and make a meaningful attempt to fix them - it appears, however, that the issue of staffing shortages has simply been put in the 'too hard' basket by the Health Minister.

My feeling is that mothers should be given the option of staying on with their baby - establishing breast-feeding and gaining expert advice - rather than being shunted out the door with a grocery voucher.

It took CCDHB just two days of negative public feedback in the media to rescind the policy late yesterday afternoon. This must be one of the most ill-conceived ideas put forward in health for some time. The real problem is that operational band aids are being applied to deep wounds in the organisation - if a doctor did that they would face de-registration, but the Minister remains unpunished.

Stalled Sales and Grounded Jets

The ongoing saga of the sale of our Air Combat Strike Wing aircraft - de-commissioned at the instruction of the Labour Government in 2001 - continued this week.

Papers I received under the Official Information Act revealed detailed work towards putting the RNZAF Aermacchis back in the air as trainers for our Advanced Pilot Training Course.

While it's widely accepted that the Skyhawks - currently parked outside at Woodbourne Air Base - will not fly again in New Zealand, the 17 Aermacchis have little time on the airframes and are considered in Air Force circles as a good option for Advanced Flight Training.

Defence Minister Phil Goff, whose office released these papers to me, has denied that the jets will be used and continues to maintain that the Skyhawks and Aermacchis package will be sold soon. After six years of promises to this effect no one - except, perhaps, Labour MPs - believe the sale is about to happen. Detail on latest developments can be found at

Lest We Forget

The current enforced idleness of our Aermacchis is a double tragedy when one considers that they are the only jet aircraft in which our airmen could currently gain experience - when it comes to pilot quality, training and experience are crucial.

During the dark days of 1942 it appeared for some time as though Australia and New Zealand would be over-run by the Imperial Japanese forces. My mother-in-law - now 84, but a young adult at the time - still gets a shiver at the thought. The Japanese were confident and even had gone so far as to print a currency for their future New Zealand colony.

By November 1942, however, the Japanese had been pushed back. The Australians - many of them militia who were little more than boys - had re-taken the Kakoda trail in Papua New Guinea, relieving the threat on Port Moresby. An attempt to invade from the sea was repulsed by the US Navy.

It is not often appreciated that the US Navy won its battles for the South Pacific with aircraft that underperformed those of the Japanese Navy. The Mitsubishi 'Zero' was both faster and more manoeuvrable than the Americans' 'Wildcats', but the skill and training of naval pilots was such that they were able to develop tactics to counter those advantages. Those skills started in an unromantic old training aircraft. Our Aermacchi jets might not be the height of military technology, but they could - and should - be put back into service as an extremely useful training aircraft for the RNZAF.


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