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.”
Today’s announcement that the Government will assist District Health Boards (DHB) with their capital charge costs doesn’t address the underlying causes of their deficits, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Minister is using the possibility of financial relief as a lever against poor performing DHBs. If he really wanted to see improved performance then he would be better off providing more funding like he said he would in Opposition.
“The capital charge signals that capital is not costless. It incentivises DHBs to use their assets efficiently. This is a symbolic gesture that takes away good incentives and does the least for DHBs with the largest deficits.
“DHBs that have already embarked on significant capital projects are ineligible for relief, which creates an uneven playing field between those that are in the midst of large projects, and those that have plans on the horizon.
“The Minister’s handling of the DHB deficits is another example of this Government failing to deliver on its promises. David Clark said he would rein in deficits but instead we’ve seen them balloon to record levels.
“Despite what the Government claims, removing the capital charge will not affect the overall level of funding available for DHBs because the Government will simply have less additional money available for DHBs each year.
“This is a case of the Government failing to acknowledge that someone has to pay the costs of borrowing to fund capital investment, and in this case it will be New Zealanders who have to pick up the slack.”
The Government’s tertiary education reforms will be wider than first though and will strip power and assets from regional polytechnics like Otago Polytechnic, which could be detrimental to the Otago brand, List MP based in Dunedin Michael Woodhouse says.
“National has obtained a Cabinet paper which outlines the Government’s proposed changes, the Government will take this paper to Cabinet on Monday.
“The reforms will mean regional polytechnics will be renamed as subsidiaries of a newly formed statutory entity called New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST). After two years polytechs and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) will be dissolved.
“This is disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships, and will be detrimental to our region’s brand. Identity matters for Otago. Its name is globally recognised, and it appears there will be a damaging loss of the Otago brand.
“The Government’s ‘we know best’ attitude will mean the organising of apprentices will be taken from industry, who know the needs of Otago best, and instead will be given to one polytech.
“Cash assets and community legacy assets will be ring fenced at the new head office, and all other assets will be taken away and consolidated. Current boards will be sacked on day one including local members, and will be replaced by a subsidiary board, and regional leadership groups will be advisory only.
“Otago Polytechnic is one of the highest performing Polytechs in the country, with a reputation for being nimble to the needs of its community. The loss of autonomy signalled by this change could be very bad for the region.
“The Government is proposing to remove out of region provisions as well. The Auckland Campus is a big part of the financial strength of Otago Polytechnic. Its closure would severely weaken it.
“The Government has said it is committed to the regions. But it is destroying a polytech which is integral to our community. This is a case of Wellington telling Otago what to do. Education Minister Chris Hipkins should be addressing the problems where they are and leaving successful institutions like Otago Polytechnic alone.
“National will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return polytechnic decision making back to communities and the regions. We will return apprentices to the industry.
“We know how important Otago Polytechnic is to Otago. National will fight these reforms, we will fight for regional New Zealand and we will fight against idealistic educational reforms.”
National is proposing a Primary Sector Visa to help provide workforce certainty for employers in the primary sector, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Our primary sector is diversifying so we can try and feed an increasing global population. It’s important we have the workforce to manage, develop and maintain New Zealand’s agricultural and horticultural businesses.
“Farmers and growers are crying out for skilled labour but there isn’t enough workers to meet demand. Many are experiencing serious implications of food rotting because of a lack of labour stifling growth and will have to downsize. A solution is needed now.
“The Primary Sector Visa would act as an avenue for skilled and experienced migrants to help get residence and build their futures here.
“It would work alongside other National initiatives such as supporting vocational education and agricultural training, extending the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and promoting the sector as an attractive career prospect for young people.
“I encourage you to read National’s recently launched primary sector discussion document for more insight into our strategy to address the sector’s growing workforce issues.”
Primary Sector Discussion Doc can be found here