The Government must take proactive steps to ensure the coronavirus outbreak does not spread to New Zealand and give Kiwis confidence, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“New viruses can rapidly spread across a population and take hold before symptoms become apparent. The prudent response would be to provide information to passengers arriving from affected countries and to screen visitors for early symptoms.
“These are strategies that have been introduced in Australia, America and many Asian countries. But the Government has been slow to take the same action to protect and reassure New Zealanders.
“Given Chinese New Year celebrations are nearly upon us, large numbers of expected international visitors, combined with large gatherings, increases the risk of the virus arriving in New Zealand and spreading.
“With reports Wuhan has stopped all public transport and flights to try to contain the deadly virus, it’s clear the Government is not doing enough to prevent the disease arriving in New Zealand.”
National is calling on the Government to:
- Make the coronavirus a specific notifiable disease
- Ask health questions on arrival about travel history and any symptoms for those who have travelled from affected areas
- Heightened health surveillance at international airports with appropriate equipment and staff and ensure all DHBs have outbreak protocols in place and sufficient protective equipment on hand.
“Associate Health Minister Julie-Anne Genter’s record on outbreak management is poor, with the meningococcal disease in Northland and dealing with measles across New Zealand being a case of ‘too little too late’. The Government must not make the same mistake a third time.”
The financial performance of DHBs continues to deteriorate on this Government’s watch and it’s causing real concern for the future of the health system, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
Recently published DHB Sector Financial Performance data revealed the combined deficit grew from $83 million in July and August 2018 to $103 million over the same period in 2019.
“The Government has promised much and delivered little on health, resulting in delays, deficits and denials for New Zealanders who need healthcare,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“Health Minister David Clark is putting DHBs in a parlous financial position through sheer incompetence.
“These latest figures showed a whopping 24 per cent increase in DHB deficits. That is unsustainable. All but one of New Zealand’s 20 DHBs are now in deficit.
“David Clark has shown little appetite or ability to remedy the situation. He’s out of his depth and he knows it, which is why he quietly released the data online over the summer period.
“The Health Minister has had ample opportunity to provide funding that would meet the costs he’s imposed on DHBs through salary settlements and increased spending commitments. His failure to do so has left DHBs between a rock and a hard place.
“Many DHBs have annual plans that are yet to be approved and they’re under pressure to slow recruitment of the much-needed staff to deliver the care Kiwis need.”
Health Minister David Clark’s refusal to set health targets is seeing standards slip nationwide and patients are suffering, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The first quarter statistics for the current financial year show significant slippage since this Government has been in office in critical areas of the health system.
“All 20 DHBs became worse at managing emergency department waiting times, 18 of the 20 DHBs were worse at getting smokers to quit and efforts to provide faster cancer treatment slipped in 14 DHBs. New Zealanders are waiting longer for crucial, often life-saving care and not getting the support they need.
“In elective surgeries, we know that there were nearly 6000 fewer procedures last year, the first decrease in a decade, but Dr Clark has stopped publishing data on the number of surgeries performed so we don’t even have first-quarter figures available. It’s clear he doesn’t believe he’s accountable to New Zealanders.
“What gets measured, gets done. Targets focus the health system and ensure that health professionals get results that make a difference to patients’ lives.
“They’re an indicator of the strength of our health system, as well as an important way to ensure New Zealanders have confidence in the services being provided to them.
“It’s regrettable that, in the so-called Year of Delivery, Dr Clark delivered nothing but delays, deficits and denials for New Zealanders who need healthcare.”
The Health Minister’s first act of 2020 should be to establish a ministerial inquiry into PHARMAC’s decision to switch to Logem – the generic form of epilepsy drug lamotrigine – given it’s now suspected to have caused five deaths, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“PHARMAC’s decision to only fund Logem affected about 90 per cent of patients with epilepsy. Given the scale of that change, it’s imperative that questions around the proposed risks are answered.
“The tragic news that it’s suspected to have caused the death of a young father just before Christmas, as well as four deaths reported earlier in 2019, suggests the brand switch put lives at risk.
“Medsafe and patients raised concerns about the switch before it went ahead.
“While a coronial investigation is ongoing, questions remain about whether or not Health Minister David Clark was involved in the decision-making process and why PHARMAC appears not to have taken action when news of a patient’s death was first received.
“News of a possible fifth death in relation to the switch to Logem only increases questions around whether the risks of the drug switch were appropriately assessed.
“What’s more, it appears PHARMAC knew about the first patient death possibly being linked to the drug switch and took no action for a month. The public deserves to know why.
“The ministerial inquiry that National has been calling for since November is the appropriate way of getting those answers. It will consider all of the issues in relation to the brand switch, something the coroner cannot do.”
National’s Health Discussion Document explores policies that seek to address health issues faced specifically by women and improve their care, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Women need care for a range of different health issues, from pregnancy and childbirth to rare gynaecological cancers and, while both women and men can suffer from breast cancer, it’s substantially more common in women.
“We want women who experience breast cancer to have access to compassionate care which gives them dignity and restores their confidence. Right now, women who have a mastectomy aren’t always offered a reconstruction, or face a long wait for that to happen.
“Not all women will want to have a reconstruction, but we’re asking whether it should be offered routinely as a part of cancer care so that those who do want it can access it in a timely way and, where possible, have a reconstruction at the same time as their mastectomy.
“We also want to ensure women can access high quality maternity care across New Zealand, whether they’re in Auckland or Southland. Part of that can be done through ensuring community midwives are remunerated fairly for the amazing work they do.
“We’re proposing addressing income equity claims by independent midwives in line with the recommendations of the Co-Design Report commissioned by the previous National Government, which this Government has so far failed to take up.
“For women who have been treated using surgical mesh, there are sometimes mild or even debilitating complications which impact on quality of life. It’s effective for many patients, but we’ll establish a National Mesh Register to track the incidence of adverse events. The current Government pledged to establish one, but it has failed to deliver.
“National’s committed to ensuring women young and old have high-quality healthcare available to them, whether it’s part of their cancer treatment, when they become a mum, or after a gynaecological surgery.
“National will make health a priority.”
National wants to simplify our healthcare system as part of our commitment to delivering quality healthcare for New Zealanders as locally as possible, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“All health systems are complex, but for a country of our size, it’s worth asking where and how we can simplify ours to deliver better care for New Zealanders and better value for money.
“We support the principle of DHBs delivering services and being locally governed, but in our Health Discussion Document, National is asking whether the current model of elected DHB governance is the best way to ensure performance.
“We want to make changes that improve access and consistency of services across the country. One of the ways this could be done is through planning and funding services at a regional level, and delivering them through DHBs locally. We want New Zealanders’ feedback on this proposal.
“We’re also asking whether, for the most complex services, management could be at a national level.
“National wants to improve care for all New Zealanders, no matter where they live, and ensure that our system is open to innovation so that that improvement is continuous.
“We’re asking these questions to ensure DHB structures are working the best they can and Kiwis are getting the care they need.”
National will support programmes which will vastly improve the quality of life for thousands of New Zealanders, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Healthy teeth, ears and eyes are all fundamental to quality of life and overall health at all ages. In our Health Discussion Document, we’re looking at ways to improve care in these areas for all New Zealanders.
“It’s important to start early. Already, over 120,000 children are overdue for their dental checks. National will increase funding for the school dental service to ensure every school-aged child has access to good oral health and any issues are picked up promptly.
“The previous National Government committed to increasing access to cochlear implants for adults. The current Government has scrapped that commitment. We’ll reintroduce it and increase the number of adult cochlear implants performed from 40 per year to 100 per year.
“Your eyes and vision become more fragile as you age. This is why National is proposing the first ever National Eye Health Survey to ensure we’ve got the resources in place to provide high-quality eye care for all New Zealanders.
“We’re also asking whether government should fund a free assessment for macular degeneration for New Zealanders when they reach 65, and whether we should have mobile clinics to test the vision and hearing of older Kiwis in remote areas.
“Our range of policies will ensure New Zealanders have healthy eyes, teeth and ears, no matter how old they are or where in New Zealand they live. National is doing the work in Opposition so we’re ready to hit the ground running in 2020.”
David Clark should hold a ministerial inquiry into PHARMAC’s decision to switch to the generic form of epilepsy drug lamotrigine which may have resulted in four deaths, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“PHARMAC’s decision to fund only one brand of lamotrigine and the subsequent reversal of that decision raises more questions than it answers.
“Given four people have died since the initial brand switch, the public and patients deserve to know whether or not those deaths were as a result of the compulsory switch to Logem, the generic form of lamotrigine.
“We know that Medsafe had raised concerns about the brand switch before it went ahead.
“What we need to know now is whether the Minister was involved in the decision-making around lamotrigine, which would call into question PHARMAC’s independence, or whether Medsafe raised further concerns about the number of adverse reactions they were seeing.
“A ministerial inquiry is the appropriate way of getting answers to these questions.
“Ultimately the question also needs to be asked about whether Dr Clark’s decision to increase PHARMAC funding by an amount which barely covers inflation is forcing risky drug-switches on the basis of making savings. By comparison, National increased PHARMAC funding by an average of $24 million each year we were in government.
“The public deserves answers to these questions so we can continue to have confidence in PHARMAC’s independence and decision-making.”
The Government has thumbed its nose at National’s offer to cooperate on a regulatory regime for vaping products, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Several weeks ago, Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges offered to work with the Government to create a regulatory regime for vaping products in light of concerns that they were increasingly being used by young people not previously addicted to tobacco.
“After weeks of silence, Associate Minister Jenny Salesa told Parliament yesterday that she welcomed National’s input, but only after any potential legislation went to Select Committee.
“This is the opposite of constructiveness. Worse than that, there’s no indication the Government will make progress on its own any time soon. Jenny Salesa reported to Cabinet on vaping regulations in November last year, but almost a year on, nothing has happened.
“Parents are becoming increasingly concerned that vapes are being marketed at children. They come in bright colours, have child-attractive flavours and are advertised liberally. We want to ensure vaping is a tool to help smokers quit, not an easily accessible habit for young teens.
“There are concerns those who wouldn’t have taken up smoking are taking up vaping and schools are struggling to stop the growing trend.
“Consumers also need assurances that these products will not be harmful to their health.
“Regulation is required quickly but the Government is dragging its heels at every turn. But National’s offer is still on the table.
“We’re willing to work constructively to ensure we’re striking the right balance around this important issue. It’s time for the Government to front up and do the right thing.”
New documents released under the Official Information Act show David Clark’s attempt to blame the previous Government for the Holidays Act debacle isn’t grounded in facts, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“DHBs were asked by the previous Government on multiple occasions beginning in April 2015 whether there were potential breaches in the Holidays Act, and assured the Ministry of Health that everything was fine.
“But on unveiling a massive combined deficit of $1 billion this week, David Clark claimed this was because the previous Government ‘did nothing’.
“That’s just not true. When proactively asked about potential breaches of the Holidays Act, the Ministry of Health and DHBs advised that ‘all were compliant’, saying ‘we can confidently say that all DHBs are compliant with the legislation’.
“We now know that the fallout from misinterpreting the Holidays Act will cost more than half a billion dollars. This Government was made aware of the problems after it came into office and it’s Dr Clark that has done nothing since he became aware of them. Even now he will take two years to reimburse the underpayments. It’s simply not good enough.
“At a time when this Labour-led Government has put the health sector under significant pressure and DHB deficits are getting out of control, this is another addition to an already overstressed balance sheet.
“Dr Clark should be urgently looking into how things went so wrong. Thousands of health workers have had their leave underpaid for years, and New Zealanders need assurances that the issues have been comprehensively fixed.
“This Government has failed to get a grip on the health system and Kiwis will pay the price for its failures.”