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What About The Health Workforce From July 1st As Health NZ Governance Takes Effect?

By Terry Taylor, President, New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS).

I remember back in 2018 sitting in the then Minister of Health Dr David Clark’s electorate office in Dunedin and chatting about where I thought the profession of medical laboratory science was going to be in five years’ time. It was then that the Minister outlined the plan for a total review of the entire health and disability system with a view to implement a total reset of the current system. My ears pricked up and so four years later here we are about to move into what some commentators have described as a once in a generation change to the provision of health care.

Where this process has been different from every one of the previous reforms that I had seen in my 30-year career as a frontline medical laboratory scientist, is that professional groups were called to submit and provide insight and recommendations for future system improvements. For a vital frontline profession like ours to have had years of major laboratory workplace reforms without once being consulted or able to submit suggestions or concerns most certainly didn’t help to prevent the fragmented and competitive structure that laboratories currently operate under. There is a quiet optimism that the pleadings for workforce stability and investment in training and education with fiscal and professional recognition will come to fruition. The Pae Ora Healthy Futures Act does after all provide the legislation for meaningful national service decisions.

For those of us in prominent and visible professional roles who have been directly involved with numerous meetings, position documents and background governance work, July 1st comes as the start of a new journey in healthcare provision. There is no magic click of fingers and suddenly we all have this amazing resilient and functional equitable system that will instantly solve the past 20 years of health workforce neglect. July 1st is when the building blocks start being added to the foundation with the health workforce providing the ‘steel reinforcing’ to hold the system together. The NZ Health charter will provide the bones for workforce stability by implementing the ‘rules of engagement’ that all providers of health services will be required to abide by.

The Health Minister, Hon. Andrew Little has constantly reiterated that a well-resourced, protected, and respected workforce is the golden egg to health reform success. The challenge to provide a governance structure that reinforces those commitments while operating in a fiscally responsible manner is immense. A key factor will be the leadership direction taken as the NZ Health Plan is formulated to promote the cohesive and collaborative merger of services under Health NZ governance. The past few months have highlighted major staffing and funding shortfalls across almost every health sector, there is no doubt to address this is a massive challenge for Health NZ.

‘What we want is a health system where everyone has access to consistent, high-quality health services when and where they need it – no matter who they are or where they live’, Minister of Health the Hon. Andrew Little.

One of the constant arguments that has been put forward is why are health reforms happening while the country is going through a global pandemic. For the medical laboratory science profession, the reasons have clearly bubbled to the surface recently for all to see. We are no different than any of the other essential frontline health services and moments of great stress like a pandemic quickly expose any chinks in structure and stability of the workforce. To wait any more time for under siege health services will only pile more and more stress on systems that quite simply are unable to cope for much longer.

‘I look forward to a future where those practitioners providing the health services are recognised and promoted as the key ingredient to the success of the new system. Genuine commitment to staff wellbeing and recognised professional training needs to be a key ingredient for any future service providers’, says Terry Taylor NZIMLS President.

‘The expectation of professional bodies like the NZIMLS is to see our expert specialised leaders have a hands-on role with decisions and initiatives for any future governance and service improvements ‘, says Taylor.

‘For too long education, social and health services have operated independently without coordination. The reforms provide the opportunity to strengthen these links to target where the need is most required’, says Taylor

To have been part of the process from the original Health and Disability Review through to seeing the implementation of the Health NZ entity has felt like a worthwhile experience. Like many practitioners I looked with scepticism back in 2018 to this reform ever taking place. To see on July 1st, 2022, the Māori Health Authority, Public Health Agency and Health NZ start their operation life is a credit to the dedicated work started by the review panel and continued by the Health Transition Unit and interim Health NZ. It is not often politicians get credit, however the Hon. Dr David Clark deserves accolades for initiating this process. The Hon. Andrew Little has latterly been a key driver for the implementation and the many other politicians involved from both sides of the house need to be applauded for getting us to this stage.

The real hard mahi starts now and how appropriate this is happening as we celebrate Matariki. The future is both exciting and scary in one breath but as has been said all along, strong decisive leadership with genuine commitment to growing and developing the capability of the health workforce is critical for long term success.

Terry Taylor is President, New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS)

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