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Medical Association Slams Hospital's Luxury Wing

by Selwyn Manning -

The Law has been broken with National Women’s Hospital offering luxury maternity services for paying patients, according to the Medical Association.

The Medical Association says the user-pays basis may breach the Hospitals Act.

National Women’s is charging women up to $281 a night, offering new mothers to be private rooms with a television and video, an a la carte menu and 24-hour service.

The Association’s statement pre-empted Health Minister Wyatt Creech’s position on the Public Hospital’s private wing in Parliament this afternoon.

The Medical Association's maternity services committee chairman, Dr Peter Dukes, says the Hospitals Act prevents public hospitals from charging patients.

Despite assurances from National Women's that the service will make a profit, Dr Dukes is concerned taxpayers' money will be used to subsidise private patients.

Health Minister Wyatt Creech said in Parliament this afternoon that the Health Funding Authority funds every woman who seeks it: “a maternity service of high quality and which is clinically safe.

“That is the Government’s commitment.” Mr Creech says.

However, the answers during Parliament’s question time failed to nail the Minister down on whether the Government supports the luxury private wing and whether it encourages other public hospitals around the country to do the same.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel questioned the Government’s competitive market modelled health service model in Parliament, saying it encouraged a “two tier user pays maternity service” as is now at National Women’s Hospital.

But Mr Creech denies that this is a two tier service: “Everybody is entitled to a clinically safe propoer maternity service. Maybe it is different for Lianne Dalziel and the Labour Party, but I would not normally call a la carte menus, television and video players, customer care and systems, bathroom ensuits, part of a form of a maternity service.”

However, the Minister’s defensiveness of National Women’s private maternity wing is clearly different in tone from his statements of last night.

The Minister of Health has sought advice from the Ministry of Health and Health Funding Authority over the proposal by National Women's Hospital to charge women for extra post-natal services.

"The decision is one made by National Women's Hospital, without reference to me.

"Free quality maternity care for women is a given under the National Government," Mr Creech said. "Women should expect the same high level of clinical care regardless of where in the public health system they receive it.

"National Women's Hospital is a public hospital and receives substantial taxpayer funding to provide a good quality service to women.

"I have asked health officials to advise me about National Women's plans, including whether there would be any impact on the provision of free quality clinical care," Mr Creech said.

But Labour calls the private maternity wing “Economic Apartheid” stemming from the Government’s “ill conceived policies”.

Labour health spokesperson Annette King says: “What we want is quality maternity care for all women, not a Rolls Royce service for those who can afford it, and the back of the bus for the rest.”

National Women’s Hospital today stated it now can provide women with “choice” in their maternity care. Clearly though that “choice” is reserved only for those who can afford the luxury.

Annette King says: “If women want to pay for care, they can do that through the private sector. But a public hospital's role is to provide good quality, safe services for all women. Offering an elite service, which the majority can't access, is not the New Zealand way.

“It's a new version of "let them eat cake." Women in the traditional maternity wards at National Women's Hospital will get a plate of custard, while the well-heeled new mothers in the luxury ward are eating chocolate gateaux.

“Auckland Healthcare says the luxury ward will be serviced by senior midwives. Does this mean the paying customers will get the best and most experienced staff?

“This unfortunate situation is a direct result of Government policy. National set up a competitive health market and public funding is now going to private maternity providers. This has forced New Zealand's largest maternity hospital to try and win back patients, by offering something 'extra'.

“The Health Funding Authority says it does not agree with a two-tier service and is discussing the issue with Auckland Healthcare. However, it is the HFA's funding of private providers that has forced National Women's to try and compete. A little chat isn’t going to fix this problem.”

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