Health Minister David Clark has admitted in Parliament yesterday that he used funds that should have been reinvested into medicines for New Zealanders to offset the cost of wage settlements that his Government didn’t fully fund, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“After clearly evasive answers in Parliament yesterday, David Clark has been forced to admit that he stripped $200 million of Pharmac savings to fund the nurses’ settlements and even told DHBs they should use the savings for that very purpose.
“This is entirely inappropriate. Pharmac’s funding model enables savings made during the bulk purchasing of medicines to be re-invested to ensure continually improving and increasing access to medicines for New Zealanders.
“It is not set up so that the Minister can milk the Pharmaceutical budget to compensate for his Government’s overpromising.
“At first the Minister tried to deny that he diverted $200 million of Pharmac savings using creative accounting to make it look as though he had increased the budget when really he had simply moved procurement around.
“Now it’s clear that he not only stripped this funding away but that he used it to fund the nurses’ settlement that the Government should have been able to fund themselves.
“He then claimed more medicines are being bought for more New Zealanders but when pressed on the details of how many medicines, he didn’t have a clue.
“As we have seen in the last few days, increasing access to new and more medicines is vital for the health of New Zealanders. This can’t be done if Pharmac’s funding for medicines is not regularly increased.
“The Government needs to front up to ensure that Pharmac’s funding is not ransacked in the future and it needs to revaluate its prioritisation if $2.8 billion for fees free for students but nothing to provide cheaper doctors’ visits or medicines funding.”
Health Minister David Clark must come clean about funding for new medicines being pulled from Pharmac to settle the nurses’ pay dispute, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“This Government promised to prioritise the health system but has instead stripped away money that should have been reinvested into Pharmac meaning new medicines, including those to treat breast cancer that were petitioned for today, won’t be available for some time.
“Today I received a petition on the steps of Parliament signed by almost 34,000 New Zealanders calling on the Minister of Health to fund two drugs for breast cancer sufferers. Unfortunately, given the fact that today in Parliament the Minister couldn’t confirm where he reprioritised Pharmac’s funding to it seems unlikely the petitioner’s requests will be met.
“I directly asked him if he had spoken with officials about $200 million in funding reprioritised from the purchase of new medicines to nurses’ salary increases, but the Minister fudged his answers.
“This is not a question about the nurses getting the settlement they deserve – which they absolutely do – but the fact the Minister has taken buying power away from Pharmac in order to ensure Labour’s union friends are kept onside.
“The Labour-led Government’s self-enforced Budget Responsibility rules and its reckless and untargeted spending has backed them into a corner when it comes to settling multiple pay disputes, but cutting funding for medicines is not the answer.
“It must not be forgotten that Mr Clark and the Labour Party campaigned heavily on making sure Kiwis enjoyed ‘world-class cancer treatment’, but so far they’ve been silent on the issue since they came to power.
“It looks as though the petitioners call for action for breast cancer sufferers will fall on deaf ears. Mr Clark needs to front up on stripping away funds from the entity who provides access to all cancer medicines including the ones petitioned for today.”
National’s Health Spokesperson Michael Woodhouse and Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker today announced National will reinstate full services at the Lumsden Maternity Centre if elected in 2020.
“Providing full birthing services at Lumsden is vital for the health, wellbeing and safety of mothers, babies and their families. That’s why National is committed to reinstating Lumsden as a full birthing unit should we be re-elected in 2020,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“Hamish Walker and I have been advocating for this community to ensure that the downgrade of the centre wasn’t pursued. Unfortunately our efforts to convince the Health Minister and the Government of the need for these services have been continuously ignored and the Health Minister has not taken any action.
“The proposed closure highlights serious safety concerns, mothers will be forced to endure major delays in getting maternity care, with some having to travel up to 130km to give birth This should not be acceptable - this centre is indispensable to its rural community.”
“Lumsden Maternity Centre is crucial to the Southland community and this announcement provides safety and optimal care for new mothers and babies. I am delighted for the families who will be able to use this centre in the future if we are elected in 2020,” Mr Walker says.
“Despite a strong outcry from the Southland community to stop the downgrade, which was illustrated in my petition to save the Lumsden Maternity Centre and the protest march I led through Lumsden, the Government did not listen.
“This Government is carrying out a sustained attack on rural communities by increasing fuel taxes and stripping transport funding from the regions. The decision to downgrade Lumsden makes it clear that it doesn’t care to meet or even recognise the needs of rural communities.
“With population growth in the region set to increase significantly and approximately 1000 new homes planned for the Kingston housing development, the need for maternity services in this region will be more crucial than ever.
“I am incredibly proud of everyone who has fought for the centre. While the Government has not listened, National have and we are proud to provide much-needed security for the future of maternity care in Southland.”
National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says this Mental Health Awareness Week National is encouraging the Government to take action to help improve the mental health of New Zealanders.
“Mental wellness is extremely important to overall wellbeing. In New Zealand the focus has moved from de-institutionalisation in the 80s, to de-stigmatisation in the last decade, and now to an emphasis on prevention, early intervention, and resilience.
“National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey and National’s Health caucus have been out in the community meeting with New Zealanders, including those who cope with mental health issues and those who provide support, to hear about what we can do to better help them.
“It’s clear that there needs to be better access to improved services now and with the increased focus on mental health in the lead up to the election the sector and New Zealanders were expecting continuing improvements.
“Unfortunately this Government reprioritised $100 million for 17 new mental health initiatives which were ready to be rolled out and which would have helped to save lives. The Government did so while it holds yet another one of its inquiries.
“Both the sector and those suffering mental health issues want all parties in Parliament to work together on enduring solutions. National invited the other political parties to do so however the offer was rejected by Labour, NZ First and the Greens.
“National is still committed establishing a cross-party group to produce policies that will endure beyond the three-year Parliamentary cycle.
“National takes tackling mental health issues seriously. National’s Budget 2017 included $224 million over four years to increase support for people to access mental health and addiction services. We also increased funding for mental health services from $1.1 billion to over $1.4 billion in 2015/16 - an increase of over $500 million over in our time in Government.
“This Mental Health Week we want to encourage the Government to take action to help improve the mental health of some of our most vulnerable right now, by investing the money that was put aside by National for what would have been life changing projects.”
Labour needs to fess up about what NZ First has gained from agreeing to increase the refugee quota by 500 in two years’ time, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The handling of what has been a cornerstone issue for Labour has been a mess from start to finish. First they were increasing the quota, then they weren’t, now they are - but not for another two years.
“The hold-up was of course Winston Peters’ exercising his authority over his larger but weaker coalition partners. Now he’s changed his mind and allowed the Prime Minister to make yet another announcement designed to boost her international profile, New Zealanders deserve to know about the quid pro quo.
“National believes 1000 refugees was about right. It costs around $100,000 per person per year to properly settle refugees to help them integrate and lead productive lives here and any increase needs to be balanced against other priorities.
“The fact that the Greens were nowhere to be seen in this announcement is evidence of the strong influence of New Zealand First had on it. The big question is what was the price of its support for a policy that only a week ago it denied the existence of. Time will tell.”
The Government has already committed millions more dollars to taking more refugees revealing Winston Peters’ undermining of the Prime Minister to be even more deliberate, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“In spite of Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s denials and accusations in Parliament today, the Government committed almost $14 million in capital and operational funding in this year’s Budget to build and operate two new blocks at the recently rebuilt Mangere Refugee Resettlement centre to accommodate more refugees.
“Budget documents clearly explain that ‘this funding will provide two additional accommodation blocks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre which would support an increase in the Refugee Quota to 1500 per annum’.
“It shows the Government was proceeding with the increase until Mr Peters emphatically pulled the rug out from under the Prime Minister with his comments in Nauru. The fact that no one from Labour has called him on it shows how dysfunctional this Government really is.
“What makes the matter worse is that rather than constructing empty buildings, that money could be going towards improving the lives of New Zealanders. Let’s not forget the Government is blaming its axing of the likes of cochlear implants, camps for at-risk young people and its broken promise of free GP visits on a lack of funding.
“This is yet more proof of an increasingly unstable coalition Government which can’t be trusted to put New Zealanders first by keeping its promises.”
Attached: Please click here to find information from Budget 2018 on the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre funding.
Health Minister David Clark’s crony appointments continue with the appalling decision to remove the previous chair of Pharmac and appoint a former Labour MP to the role, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“It‘s clear that David Clark’s decisions are questionable at best after he appointed Steve Maharey, a former Labour MP, to this role with no position description, application process, interview, without considering other candidates and without any other input into the decision.
“This decision also needs to be viewed in light of Clark’s handling of other appointments.
“This includes former Counties Manukau DHB chair Rabin Rabindran’s exit after his role was offered to former Labour MP Mark Gosche before Mr Rabindran was formally removed, his appointment of former Labour MP Pete Hodgson to the Southern Partnership Group which is steering the $1.4 billion Dunedin Hospital rebuild project, former Labour MP Margaret Wilson as deputy chair of Waikato DHB and former Labour Chief of Staff Heather Simpson to the major health review.
“This is an incredible string of crony appointments.
“As the agency responsible for buying lifesaving drugs for New Zealanders, Pharmac should be free of any political interference so it can make decisions based on the best available evidence and in the best interests of New Zealanders.
“This appointment destroys that independence. It will cast doubt on the new Chair’s decisions and raise questions about the Government’s influence on Pharmac.
“Clear advice was given that the current chair should be reappointed for between one to three years to manage Pharmac through upcoming changes and to ensure that a proper appointment process could be followed.
“Instead, the Minister has arrogantly disregarded that advice and shoulder tapped another former Labour MP.
“A Labour Health Minister appointing a former Labour MP to run the country’s drug budget with no proper process or proof to support his ability to do the job is inappropriate at best.”
Today’s announcement by the Government of a six unit secure facility rings somewhat hollow given that the Government has callously cancelled 17 mental health initiatives that would have been making a difference right now, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The fact that this Government grabbed $100 million that was earmarked by the previous Government for mental health and has pledged just $8.4 million in this ‘major’ mental health announcement beggars belief.
“During last years’ election campaign David Clark claimed that National’s $100 million package of mental health initiatives were merely ‘tinkering on the sidelines’.
“In light of him scrapping that fund and stalling with his unnecessary inquiry, I would ask him whether this announcement makes any real change to support the mental health of New Zealanders.
“Let’s be realistic here, while this facility is needed, this is a six bed unit that will not be a drop in the bucket to addressing the need for mental health services across the country.
“The Mental Health Foundation seems to agree with this sentiment, today saying that ‘this announcement will not make a material difference to the mental health needs of most New Zealanders.’
“It’s clear that mental health was de-prioritised as soon as the Government was sworn in, in favour of big ticket items including fees free and Shane Jones’ slush fund.
“The country needs to see real action on mental health. I urge the Government Ministers to take up our 17 mental health initiatives given they seem to have no original ideas of their own.”
The Government’s major backdown on post-study work rights for international students is welcome, but the damage to New Zealand’s international reputation has already been done, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse and Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown say.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has been forced into a U-turn on his proposed changes to post-study work rights after he was told it could cost more than $1 billion a year,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“We told Labour before the election that its policy to slash the number of international students would gut the international education sector and grind our economy to a halt.
“Yet it still went ahead with proposing to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in New Zealand for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas, which would have seen a major drop in student enrolments.
“Thanks to the chorus of voices that joined National in warning the Government that this proposal could result in 50 per cent fewer student enrolments next year at a cost of almost $500 million in export earnings per year, the Government has finally backed down.
“Had it not backed down, thousands of students studying one-year graduate diplomas would have had all post-study work rights removed. This would include, for example, teachers qualified overseas doing a one-year course to gain teacher registration in New Zealand.”
Mr Brown says the change would have had a significant impact not only on international education sector but on other sectors that relied on those skills so the backdown is welcome.
“But it’s too little too late, with news that the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand fell for the first time since 2013 cutting millions of dollars from the sector,” he says.
“Given the Education Minister has signalled closures of polytechnics, institutes of technology and private training establishments, and Chinese student numbers could continue to fall by at least 30 per cent, the sector is already in real trouble.
“The previous National Government introduced measured, sensible changes to prevent student exploitation and improve the quality of private training establishments.
“It’s a relief that the Minister has now recognised that was the correct path to follow. There is no need for further reckless changes in order to meet an arbitrary immigration reduction target conjured up during an election campaign.”
The targets that have underpinned improvements in New Zealanders’ health over the past twelve years could become an enduring part of our health system if a Members’ Bill introduced to the ballot becomes law, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Government’s cancellation of the nationwide health targets will cost lives. This is simply not acceptable to National which is why we have introduced a Bill to the Members’ Bill ballot to introduce a set of reported targets, similar to those axed by the Government.
“These targets were originally established by the Clark Government in 2007 and represented important priorities from the Government to provide focus and accountability. They drove improvements in areas of the health sector that were important to the public.
“This Government clearly does not value the improvements and accountability that come from the targets and the Minister of Health has cynically axed them.
“Tremendous gains were achieved when they were set and performance against them was published. These targets had clear and significant benefits. Research indicates that 700 lives per year have been saved by the target to shorten stays in Emergency Departments.
“Childhood immunisation rates have risen from 67 per cent to 92 per cent, cancer treatment waiting times are now at world best standards and people no longer have to travel to Australia for basic treatment – as was the case under the previous Labour Government - and tens of thousands of extra elective surgeries were performed.
“We believe in the success of these targets and want to ensure they continue. My Bill requires the Minister of Health to set between 6 and 12 targets after consulting with stakeholders and periodic public reporting progress in achieving the targets, including an explanation for non-achievement.
“I urge Government parties to support this Bill, especially the Labour Party, given many of the Bill’s provisions are modelled on the Prime Minister’s Child Poverty Reduction Bill.
“This is a Bill which also places a high value on the importance of setting and achieving targets. I hope the Prime Minister will be consistent in seeing the same merit in my Bill and support it into law.”