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Presentation to Select Committee on PlunketLine

Media Advisory

8 November 2006

Presentation to Health Select Committee on PlunketLine

Attached with this media advisory is the presentation by Kaye Crowther,
President of Plunket, to the Health Select Committee seeking restoration
of Government funding for PlunketLine.


Plunket Oral Submission

To Health Select Committee

8 November 2006


Good morning. My name is Kaye Crowther and I am the President of the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society. Beside me is Plunket’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Baigent…..

I would like to thank the Committee and its chair for this opportunity to present the case for the restoration of Government funding for PlunketLine. Plunket is very appreciative of the support it has already received from many members of this Committee.

At this point I would also like to acknowledge the funding of our main contract by Government, but that is not why we are here today.

The circumstances around Government funding of PlunketLine have damaged public confidence in all parties and this has been a great shame.

Today I am not just delivering this submission on behalf of Plunket, but on behalf of the 53,129 NZers who signed our petition and the many health and community NGOs that came out in support of PlunketLine: National Council of Women, Barnardos, Parent Centre, the Nurses’ Organisation, PlayCentre, Zonta, Rural Women, Women’s Institute and numerous others.

The Ministry of Health’s decision to axe PlunketLine funding was a very, very poor decision which made no sense – and the reasons why are explained in our written submission………..

Today, we want to make three points to you:

First: Plunket is a core service for NZ families – AND - PlunketLine makes an essential contribution to the effectiveness of Plunket’s service delivery.

Second: The Ministry of Health did not decide to award McKesson the well child telephony service in April of this year. It made that decision way back in 1999. It just took the Ministry 7 years to squeeze Plunket out. The tender process was pre-determined years ago.

Third: The Ministry in its submission to this Committee has now finally provided the evidence to confirm that Plunket was indeed right all along – that PlunketLine had always been vastly underfunded.

At our conclusion we will ask you to recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that the Government restores financial support for PlunketLine, and without delay.

So firstly: PlunketLine is essential to Plunket’s effectiveness

It is an accepted fact that Plunket is a core service for New Zealand families and whanau:

o 92% of all babies born in New Zealand are Plunket babies

o We welcome 52,000 new clients every year and we are invited into their homes to provide advice and support

o We have an active client base of some 200,000

o We have a 5 – 7 year relationship with each of our clients and lifelong relationships across generations

This level of trust and confidence is rare and very valuable, not just for Plunket, but for New Zealand - because giving our children the very best start in life is vital to later outcomes.

It is also a fact that PlunketLine has become a core component of Plunket.

o We first established PlunketLine way back in 1994 in response to need identified by our nurses, clients and volunteers. Increasingly we were receiving telephone calls from parents wanting information, advice and assurance

o Demand grew at such a rate that we now employ 30 specially qualified nurses

o PlunketLine deals with in excess of 60,000 calls every year

o While face-to-face contact is the foundation of our service, flexibility in the ways that people can access our services is vital.

o In the 21st century, we are expected to be responsive, relevant and readily accessible. This is only possible by delivering through many channels and using technology.

o Can you imagine the IRD or State Insurance or any consumer-focused organisation without a telephone service?

o Our telephone service is critical today, just as our emerging web-based services will be tomorrow. We need to keep innovating and evolving to stay relevant to the needs of NZ families.

o With PlunketLine, Plunket is a stronger, more effective organisation with greater reach and accessibility.

o That is why, despite the axing of public funding by the Ministry of Health, Plunket is to retain PlunketLine. We have the confidence to do that not only from the 53,129 who signed the petition, but from the large numbers of callers who continue to ring PlunketLine. NZers are speaking through their actions.

Secondly: The Ministry of Health has, for the last seven years at least, wanted Plunketline out – and Healthline in. The Ministry had pre-determined as early as 1999 that PlunketLine should be folded into Healthline.

You will no doubt hear a lot from the Ministry of Health regarding the objectivity of their tender process. No doubt they will probably once again refer to the State Services Commission report to endorse this.

But their decision was heavy on process and weak on substance and commonsense.

Our written submission deals in some detail with the tender.

o It raises serious doubts about the need for a tender in the first place

o It documents the bias in the tender criteria

o It explains how the Ministry actively assisted McKesson in breaching contract criteria such as a moratorium on adequate numbers of qualified staff But more fundamental than any of that is the simple truth that the Ministry decided it wanted one national health telephone service operated to one model by one provider way back in 1999. It just took them 7 years - until 1 July 2006 to be exact - to squeeze Plunket out.

Again, our written submission documents the Ministry’s relentless drive to achieve its “one stop shop”.

But, I think just one quote sums up the Ministry’s attitude throughout, and illustrates just what kind of chance Plunket ever had of winning the Ministry’s tender.

This is from a letter sent to Plunket by the Ministry in June last year …

“We would like to once again emphasise the Ministry’s position… ‘McKesson will use its best endeavours to ensure that Healthline, incorporating PlunketLine, will be delivered by one nationally available 0800 number from July 1 2005”

and further …

“It is not the Ministry’s intention to divert from the agreement’s stated objective."

This decision was all about establishing Healthline across all areas of health service.

Forcing PlunketLine into Healthline was simply a step on the way. Once complete PlunketLine was dropped like a stone. There was no apparent consideration given to the benefits of a tight connection between a well child telephone service and well child face-to-face service.

This was a massive blind spot on the part of the Ministry

Thirdly: PlunketLine was always Underfunded

Over the past 12 months, despite having exceeded the minimum call volume requirements of its contract, PlunketLine has been repeatedly and publicly maligned by the Ministry and Minister for not answering enough calls.

The Ministry told us that performance was not a reason for Plunket losing the contract, and yet they stood by and let the Minister and the Prime Minister quote utterly misleading figures about unanswered calls. The Ministry appeared more than happy for this to be the main message in the public arena – it suited their purpose.

In addition, Plunket’s longstanding position - that PlunketLine has been significantly underfunded - has been denied by the Ministry.

Well, finally, thanks to information provided by the Ministry itself about Healthline’s call numbers, we can now, once and for all, confirm that Plunket was absolutely right all along. Demand for PlunketLine has been well in excess of its contract call numbers.

Fact: PlunketLine continues to deal with roughly 1,200 calls per week - or in excess of 60,000 per year.

Claim: In parallel, according to the Ministry, Healthline is now dealing with about 6,000 calls per month related to children under five OR about 70,000 calls per year.

Therefore, total demand for well child calls – including those taken by PlunketLine - must be well in excess of 100,000 calls per year.

That level of demand is what Plunket has always maintained and the Ministry has denied. So, in the face of demand for over 100,000 calls PlunketLine was only ever contracted and funded to deal with 60-70,000 calls.

In Summary:

Firstly: Plunket is a core service for NZ families and PlunketLine is a core component of Plunket. Without PlunketLine, Plunket is less able to help NZ families.

Secondly: The fate of PlunketLine was not decided by a tender in late 2005. It was decided way back in 1999 when the Ministry decided it wanted a “one stop shop” for telephone services. It just took the Ministry 7 years to squeeze Plunket out.

Thirdly: Demand for PlunketLine has always far outstripped its funding. Thanks to the Ministry’s figures that is now obvious.

You can see from what we have said that well child telephone services continue to be seriously underfunded by Government.

We ask this Committee to recommend, in the strongest possible terms, the immediate restoration of Government funding for PlunketLine to correct this situation.


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