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Health Minister fudges situation with cynical use of data

Health Minister fudges situation with cynical use of Hospital doctor data

“The Minister of Health is fudging the situation when he claims New Zealand’s public hospitals are employing more doctors than ever before,” says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

He was commenting on media reports in which Health Minister Tony Ryall says more doctors and nurses are being employed in hospitals, the Government is spending more on health and patients have access to more health services.

“While the number of hospital specialists has risen over the four years from 2009 to 2013, the situation is nowhere near as rosy as Mr Ryall is painting,” says Mr Powell.

“He fudges the data by mixing up specialists with doctors-in-training (some of this specific data is also dodgy).”

“The reality is that our public hospitals are chronically strapped for cash and the increases in specialist numbers have been nowhere near enough to meet the increasing demand for more and better health care from an aging population with increasingly complex health needs and because of the health effects of increasing poverty.

“Based on headcount data provided by district health boards the number of hospital specialists has increased by 710 nationally over the period 1 July 2009 to 1 July 2013.

“In 2010 we jointly agreed with the district health boards that in order to address shortages New Zealand needed to increase public hospital specialists by over 200 per year. The last time we did this was in 2008.

“In fact, the average annual growth of hospital specialists has according to DHB data was 29 less that the average annual growth in the previous four years under the previous government.

“At first glance Mr Ryall’s numbers might look good until you realise the level of need that’s in our communities and the fact that many people around the country are struggling to even make it onto public hospital waiting lists for surgery that their doctors say they need. Certainly we know that the vacancies public hospitals advertise do not reflect the clinical shortages being experienced, as vacancies reflect the funding available to recruit to positions rather than the actual need.”

Mr Powell says public hospitals will begin the new financial year even more cash-strapped than usual, thanks to the Government’s health budget announced last month. Council of Trade Unions (CTU) analysis of the Budget figures shows they face a shortfall of an estimated $94 million while the sector as a whole will be $232 million short of what it needs.

“Mr Ryall is being a naughty boy. Rather than release a media statement in the normal way that can be seen by all and open to scrutiny, he has released selective data to selected newspapers hoping to avoid our scrutiny because we have previously exposed his dodgy use of data. Good try but it didn’t work.

“The way the Minister is using his Ministry’s data on clinical workforce numbers is a cynical ploy in an election year to convince people that – despite all evidence to the contrary – they’re actually getting the health care they need. All it shows in reality is that the Government is yet again failing to acknowledge and address the very real and concerning issues of funding and workforce capacity which face New Zealand’s health system.”


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