It’s disappointing that the interim report on the Health and Disability System review is more than 300 pages long but doesn’t contain a single recommendation, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“A review of the health and disability sector is timely and welcome, but it’s extraordinary that after nine years in opposition, two in Government, and despite how much work has been done and the length of the report, we still have no more information than we did two years ago.
“The report explicitly states that there’s ‘nothing surprising here’, but if none of this is new, the Government should tell us what it’s going to do to ensure New Zealand’s health system better serves New Zealanders.
“This report cost $9.6 million – more than twice the cost of its review of the tax system. If it’s to be money well spent, we would expect to see some sense of direction.
“And despite the Government’s claims the health system lacks leadership, it isn’t showing any leadership either.
“After 11 years, a massive review and a 300-page report, it’s time the Government provided clarity on what it wants to do with our health system.
“National supports the proposal to develop strategies that will modernise and strengthen the health workforce.
“We’re also in favour of preventative healthcare – as long as that doesn’t come at the cost of the care New Zealanders need now.
“But the report’s comments on system structure are muddled and if there’s going to be reform, we need to know how that will look. It says that the current structure is too confusing, but that restructuring would be ‘disruptive’.
“Either structural reform is on this Government’s agenda or it isn’t. The public and health sector deserve greater clarity on its plans.
“At this point, all we have is yet another review with no tangible outcomes for New Zealanders who are struggling now with increased surgery wait times and poorer performance on a range of key measures, including immunisation and cancer treatment.”
The Government has been embarrassed into action on cancer by the National Party and has fallen short, National’s spokesperson for Health Michael Woodhouse says.
“After nine years of opposition and two years of sitting on his hands in Government, Minister Clark has been dragged kicking and screaming into some sort of strategy because of the National Party.
“The Minister of Health today made his grand announcement of an ‘interim’ cancer plan – a watered down regurgitation of work we already had under way.
“Commitments including prevention, screening, treatment and palliative care are meaningful objectives, which can be found in the already established New Zealand Cancer Plan 2015-2018.
“Rather than progress the strategy already put in place, the Minister has played politics and ground cancer development to a halt. The consequence being that 13 of 20 District Health Boards have shown poorer performance against the Faster Cancer Treatment target under this Government. Despite this, the Government’s plan makes no reference to targets for faster cancer treatment.
“This is too little too late and shows a complete disregard for the many families resorting to massive loans and Givealittle pages to afford proper cancer treatment.
“In September 2017 the Minister claimed he had a ‘fully costed’ and ‘independently audited’ cancer plan. The Government has repeatedly delayed the release of any strategy, being forced to scramble something together after National took decisive action on this life threatening issue.
“Last month at our Annual Conference, National Leader Simon Bridges announced that we have committed to establishing and funding a Cancer Agency that was fully independent, involved in prevention, screening and treatment of the disease. This is something the Labour Party campaigned on in opposition but has failed to deliver with this announcement, breaking their promise to cancer sufferers.
“National also committed to setting up a $200 million fund dedicated to cancer drugs so that New Zealanders can get the treatment they need. The Government’s desperate attempt to play catch up with a poor imitation of National’s funding for cancer drugs is an embarrassment.
“It is shameful that it took an announcement from the Opposition to force movement from the Government on this issue. In the year of delivery, the Labour Government has again shown there is none.”
The performance of District Health Boards is declining under this Labour-led Government’s lacklustre leadership, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Ministry of Health recently published the 2018/19 Quarter Three Health Target Data file on its website – several months later than expected – which showed the health system has gone backwards in two thirds of the published metrics since David Clark became Health Minister.
“Performance has reduced so much that the Ministry of Health no longer publishes information on elective surgeries.
“What’s more, 17 of the 20 DHBs have poorer immunisation rates than they did before he became Minister, which is especially concerning during a measles outbreak, and 13 of them have shown poorer performance against the Faster Cancer Treatment target.
“Dr Clark should explain why he thinks New Zealanders don’t deserve timely updates on the performance of our DHBs, financial or otherwise, and how he’s going to ensure both monitoring and performance improve.
“This Government’s record on health is woeful and worsening. It’s scrapped health targets, which resulted in high immunisation rates, and still not delivered its long-awaited cancer plan.
“National regularly reported back on DHB performance as part of its commitment to better public services. This Government is failing in its commitment to being ‘open and transparent’.
“Dr Clark has also failed to make good on his promise to create a new set of performance measures that would improve health outcomes for New Zealanders. Like so many things that were promised, we’re still waiting. But Kiwis in need of healthcare don’t always have the luxury of time.
“In the absence of clear targets, performance in a range of key measure of Kiwis’ health shows things are getting worse. This Government must be held accountable for its failures on health.”
The Labour-led Government is attempting to hide its shameful underfunding of medicines by peddling the myth that a transfer of purchasing responsibility constitutes a funding increase, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Ministers of Health and Finance have both crowed about the increase in the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget of $114.2 million last year, inferring that this was extra money for medicines.
“It wasn’t. Some medicines are now being procured through PHARMAC, rather than having DHBs purchase them directly.
“Not a single extra dollar was appropriated for PHARMAC funding in Budget 2018, and in Budget 2019, the paltry increase of $10 million didn’t even cover inflation.
“Calls for more funding have only gone up, and patients are waiting longer than ever for decisions to be made.
“The previous Government achieved average annual increases of $24 million, almost five times greater than this Government. And the strategy of purchasing medicines under a PHARMAC-facilitated contract commenced under the previous Government – we’re supportive of it.
“But right now, PHARMAC needs real funding increases, greater transparency and timelier decision-making, rather than mischievous attempts to show funding’s gone up.
“National will deliver for patients – our bottom line is you.”
Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter’s assertion that climate change is the foremost public health issue will come as news to the many thousands of New Zealanders suffering from cancer, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“For cancer sufferers, getting the right treatment is the priority, not the carbon footprint of their hospital meal.
“Each day, 63 New Zealanders find out they have cancer. It’s simply out of touch to prioritise decreasing the amount of meat in sick Kiwis’ diets over investment in cancer drugs.
“And the Ministry of Health’s data on the carbon emissions of the health sector isn’t even accurate. The NGO reports referenced don’t take into account the innovation and sustainability of New Zealand’s agriculture sector: they use figures from some of the worst performing farms in other countries.
“NGOs shouldn’t be running our hospital kitchens.
“Dairy alternatives in this country have a larger carbon footprint than dairy products, so steering our sickest patients towards a plant-based diet could even be a false economy.
“It’s important to ensure hospital meals meet the nutritional needs of patients as they go through their treatment rather than conforming to the whims of the Minister.
“The Government shouldn’t let its policy direction be dictated by dodgy data.”
It’s easy to see why Health Minister David Clark was reluctant to release data on DHBs’ financial performance because they’ve shown a budget blowout, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“I’ve been predicting for months that combined DHB deficits would exceed $500 million for this financial year. It gives me no pleasure to note that the Ministry of Health, having released its forecasts for April and May, seems to agree.
“Dr Clark admitted yesterday that he received the April reports almost six weeks ago but did not bother to read them. Given the importance of DHB financial performance, this suggests staggering incompetence by the Minister.
“This Government portrays itself as open and transparent. If he wants to be open and transparent he should be proactive in releasing the information. Instead of dumping bad news late on a Friday afternoon, Dr Clark should be explaining why he’s failed to bring deficits under control.
“The figures are not a surprise. The Government has neither provided the funding they claimed they would give DHBs, nor set expectations for continued fiscal discipline.
“The Minister blames nine years of underfunding for this situation but the cause is now clear: an incompetent Minister who is asleep at the wheel of a health sector that is suffering from a lack of leadership.
“DHB deficits are out of control on his watch.”
David Clark has claimed he cannot provide information on the financial performance of DHBs despite having the data since June, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“When asked for information about DHBs’ finances for the month of April, Dr Clark said he was unable to respond.
“However, when asked about the advice he received in June, the Minister revealed he received a report on DHB financial performance in the ten months to the end of April on 21 June.
“The Minister has held the information on DHBs’ financial performance for almost six weeks, and is refusing to release it.
“If Dr Clark knows how DHBs are doing financially, he should tell us. He’s not being open or transparent.
“The combined deficit of all 20 DHBs looks set to balloon to around $500 million this year in spite of the Minister’s pledge to bring it under control. But we’ve been left in the dark.
“It’s now August and there’s been no update on DHBs’ finances since March.
“New Zealanders are suffering with increased wait times and falling standards of care. Meanwhile, the Minister has stopped publishing health targets, stating that giving Kiwis updates on the efficacy of the public health service created 'perverse incentives'.
“It’s disappointing to see this from a Government that said it would be the ‘most open and transparent ever’. The public deserves to know what’s going on.”
The much lauded cancer plan to be announced ‘in the coming weeks’ has turned out to be a consultation document which won’t address the immediate needs of cancer sufferers across New Zealand, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Despite Labour claiming it had a plan for cancer which they had worked on for almost eight months, Health Minister David Clark has now announced they’re sending it out for consultation before implementing it.
“Dr Clark previously promised to bring cancer organisations ‘under one group, one organisation’. He claimed that Labour’s plan was ‘fully costed’ and ‘independently audited’ in September 2017.
“But the Government has repeatedly delayed its cancer strategy – waiting until this year to start working on it despite the last strategy expiring in December – and it’s affecting the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.
“What we’re seeing is yet another extended period of talking and consultation from this Government, which will do nothing to improve access and diagnoses for New Zealanders suffering from cancer.
“If David Clark was serious about improving cancer care across New Zealand, he would implement his plan and set up a National Cancer Agency. He would have National’s support.
“Labour also said it would increase PHARMAC funding, but since coming into Government, the increase in funding hasn’t even covered inflation.
“And Dr Clark claimed a Labour Government would establish a target to reduce the rate of one in three who die from cancer within its first 100 days, but his only notable efforts with targets have been to remove them.
“National has a plan for cancer sufferers – an independent, expert-led cancer agency recognised as the best way to ensure prevention, early detection and high-quality treatment, following international best practice and with the power to hold DHBs to account. We will fund access to lifesaving treatments with the support of leading clinicians.
“Under National’s cancer plan, Tracey Elliott wouldn’t have to sell her house to stay alive, and Blair Vining wouldn’t have been denied the colonoscopy that could have caught his cancer sooner.
“All Kiwis should have access to the best possible cancer treatment. This is about supporting people – they’re the bottom line.”
The Government’s ideology is actively discouraging DHBs from using the private sector resulting in New Zealanders missing out on much-needed surgeries, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The length of time New Zealanders are waiting for elective surgeries is substantially increasing, and DHBs should be partnering with private hospitals when they cannot achieve the number of procedures they are expected to.
“At the end of the day, patients don’t mind where they get their publicly funded elective surgery, but blind ideology from this Government is getting in the way of easing their suffering.
“The Government promised to do more in this area, but right now DHBs are on track to perform fewer elective procedures than the year before. It would be a tragedy if anyone was to pass away while waiting for an operation that should have been performed by now.
“Blind ideology is not only getting in the way of improving access to publicly funded elective surgery, it could also be more expensive for taxpayers. Private hospitals tell me the lack of planning means when they are asked to perform procedures, the cost to DHBs is higher than it would be if better and earlier planning was undertaken.
“This is a Government that talks about need but does nothing to meet it. Dr Clark should be seriously considering a plan to reduce the time New Zealanders are waiting for surgeries, especially as he has proposed no alternative.
“The National-led Government set targets on elective surgeries, and it’s no coincidence the figures have noticeably dropped since this Government ditched this specific target last year. The fundamental difference is that National is pragmatic in our approach to public health, but this is Government blinded by ideology.”
The Government’s announcement that, despite passing legislation last year, it’s now consulting with the public on proposed regulation and standards on medicinal cannabis shows just how badly it has managed this process, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Government has really mucked up the order when passing its medicinal cannabis Bill last year. It’s bad enough it spends long periods of time on working groups doing the work on policies it should have done in Opposition, but in this case it has rushed through a Bill and only now has it started the discussion around it.
“This is an outrageous misuse of the policy process. The Bill essentially left the details of a medicinal cannabis scheme to officials with no further parliamentary oversight over the final form and function of the Bill. New Zealanders elect us to make decisions, not to pass off the big calls to others.
“National came up with a comprehensive scheme for medicinal cannabis that improves access and affordability for New Zealanders in need a year ago. But the Government couldn’t swallow its pride and acknowledge the excellent framework we developed.
“The consultation proposal comes as no surprise, considering the light touch provided by the Government’s medicinal cannabis Bill last year. Many of the questions asked in this proposal were answered in National’s proposed amendments.
“Establishing quality standards will take some time, but we could have been a year further down the road if the Government had taken on some of our proposed amendments. New Zealand is losing export market share while the Government lets officials talk.
“The consultation proposal and other processes are already well behind schedule. Under us, those eligible Kiwis in pain could be receiving affordable medicinal cannabis by now, instead they are forced to wait while the Government goes through its consultation process.”