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Med School Future Depends On Newtown Hospital Site


Takahe Room Plaza International Hotel, Wellington 5.30pm Thurs 12 August
Hon Richard Prebble CBE
Leader ACT New Zealand, MP Wellington Central

Future of Wellington Medical School depends on new hospital being at Newtown

As Member of Parliament for Wellington Central, I am honoured that the
Wellington School of Medicine Surgical Research Trust has asked me to be your
guest speaker at the Trust's annual dinner.

It gives me an opportunity to say three things. Firstly, why New Zealand
medical research is important and secondly, why private sector involvement is
vital and thirdly, why having a medical school in Wellington is important to my

New Zealand is a small country with less population than the city of Sydney.
Medical research is very expensive. Many research projects turn out to be
blind alleys. Why not decide that research is for large prosperous countries
and just concentrate on say lowering waiting lists?

There are a number of reasons why abandoning our own research would be a very
bad idea. Let me give just one. The medical problems that different nations
face are very different. If we lived in the Solomon Islands where the malaria
rate in Honiara is 108% each year - some unfortunates catch it twice in a
year - then malaria would be our medical number one priority.

New Zealand has medical challenges that are unique to our country. No one else
is going to study us and if we don't, then the problems will get worse. Let
me illustrate by taking just one of the projects that the Trust is supporting -
prostate cancer research. Let me quote from the summary of the research

"Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand
men. The death rate from prostate cancer has been steadily increasing over the
last 30 years, so that the mortality among New Zealand men is now fifth
highest in the world."

The research summary goes on to say:

"In New Zealand we are seriously hampered by lack of any accurate knowledge of
how common the problem really is. We have a multicultural society and yet
there is no data relating to Maori, Polynesian or men of other ethnic
backgrounds. Of great interest is that globally it is believed that prostate
cancer is commoner in blacks and in men with a diet high in animal fat and low
in yellow/green vegetables. In New Zealand we do not know what the
predisposing factors (if any) are.

The aims of this study are as follows:

ž To determine the incidence of prostate cancer in men with specific reference
to men of Maori and Polynesian descent.
ž To determine whether race (ethnic group) is a significant risk factor.
ž To determine the importance of family history.
ž To determine whether there are any other risk factors such as diet, previous
infections of the prostate, environment and so on."

If we don't do that research no one else will. Why not say that this research
is so good that the taxpayer should fund it all?

Because the demand on the public purse will always exceed the money available.
This is my second point. Experience has taught us that the quality of
outcomes from projects that have a significant private contribution are
significantly higher than those purely funded by the taxpayer.

There is a very good reason for this. Public projects become political.
Politicians cannot help themselves - they want to get re-elected.

Our example is a good one. Prostate cancer, I understand, kills more than
breast cancer. Perhaps it's because women are more sensible than men -
breast cancer is debated and there is wide public understanding.

I did not realise, until I was reading this backgrounder, that New Zealand is
now fifth in the world for prostate deaths. I get many letters and lobbying
for breast cancer funding - which I support. I can't recall ever getting
lobbied for research into prostate cancer.

If the private sector does not support this research - the chances of purely
taxpayer funded politicised research funding for such a project is remote. So
you are meeting a real need.

Which brings me to my third point, why having a medical school in Wellington is
such an asset to the region.

I spoke to Form 1 & 2 pupils from St Teresa's school in Karori this morning.
The class is doing a project on the resources available to Wellington and
Wellington's role in the economy.

Of course we discussed the economic effects of being the capital, the effects
of being also the cultural capital, of becoming a tourism centre and my
campaign to attract new corporates to Wellington.

I pointed out to the students that one advantage Wellington has over Auckland
is this city is a centre of educational excellence. A good university,
polytechnic and good schools attract corporates to locate here.

So too with medicine. To get a world class tertiary hospital for Wellington
means we need to attract top professionals and the medical school is an
important attraction.

The medical school being at Newtown is a vital part of the cluster of medical
excellence in that suburb. It's one of the reasons why Newtown is the only
site for a tertiary hospital.

You can't have a medical school in Newtown and the tertiary hospital in

I have no doubt that should the tertiary hospital be built in Porirua,
Wellington's medical school won't be able to get funding to move to Porirua and
will not survive as a separate facility for very long.

Medical politics being what it is, there are some who are promoting Kenepuru
because they know that such a development will lead to many tertiary services
and our medical school being relocated to another city.

I have no doubt Wellington would be the loser, along with our reputation as a
centre of educational excellence. So as MP for Wellington Central, this is a
battle I am determined not to lose.

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