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.”
Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway’s refusal to investigate how widespread visa fraud is among Sri Lankan students is another example of Labour going soft on things Kiwis care about, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Immigration New Zealand is currently investigating a major visa scam involving Sri Lankan student applications, including the potential involvement of education agents in Sri Lanka.
“Documents released to me under the Official Information Act show that in March officials advised Mr Lees-Galloway of a serious matter relating to student visa applications from Sri Lanka.
“Fraudulent behaviour was discovered in 88 pending applications and 83 were declined on those grounds, with a finance company frequently used by Sri Lankan applicants at the centre of the fraud.
“But Mr Lees-Galloway is refusing to investigate how much further it goes, and review the hundreds of past visas given to Sri Lankan students.
“This is the same Minister who in Opposition cried foul on every decision the previous Government made on immigration and stated we ‘desperately need to take a breather’ on migration. Now he can’t even be bothered to dig into this very serious matter.
“When I asked how many applications were received in 2017 where the same finance company was used, Mr Lees-Galloway claimed that the effort required to answer would require substantial collation which he thought was not in the public interest.
“In a follow-up question, he admitted that no investigation was underway into how widespread the fraud was. This is lazy and unacceptable.
“By my estimate there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of applications approved where fraudulent documentation was supplied. Surely it is in the public interest to know how widespread the fraud is.
“Our immigration system relies in part on the honesty of the applicants, but also on targeting and eliminating fraud when it occurs.
“Mr Lees-Galloway should be ordering an investigation into how widespread the offending is to reassure the public that he isn’t just talk when it comes to the integrity of the system.”
The international education sector risks losing up to $40 million a year if the Government implements changes to make it harder for international students studying graduate diplomas to get post-study work visas, National MPs Michael Woodhouse and Simeon Brown say.
“International students are a critical revenue stream for our Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), and those studying graduate diplomas alone bring in as much as $40 million a year,” Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“A change proposed by the Government 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 fails to recognise the higher calibre of those studying graduate diplomas.
“Many of these students have already obtained bachelor’s degree and should get the same post-study work rights as those graduating from bachelor’s degrees in New Zealand.
“If the Government doesn’t make this change to its proposal, some in the international education sector estimate that student enrolments could drop by at least 50 per cent in 2019, which would see the industry and our economy lose out on millions of dollars. The ITPs have been clear that this policy would destroy a significant part of the sector.”
Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown says Education New Zealand estimates the proposed change could affect up to 17,000 international tertiary students and cost almost $500 million in export earnings per year.
“ITPs are already under financial pressure due to a strong labour market and the Government’s proposal will put even more financial pressure on the sector,” he says.
“International students studying graduate diplomas bring a wealth of experience to New Zealand and often fill vital skill shortages. By completing post-graduate diplomas, they are able to add to their knowledge and broaden their skillset.
“Where there are issues of quality or student exploitation, these should be addressed through individual examination of providers, not whole-scale immigration policy changes that will have unintended consequences for the sector and the wider economy.
“The Government must urgently exclude international students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas from the requirement to study for two years in order to obtain work rights, before it starts to have a real impact on enrolments.”
Revelations that the Government had to call in the army to prop up its hospitals during the recent nurses’ industrial action is further evidence that this Government has lost control of the health sector, National’s spokesperson for Health Michael Woodhouse says.
“News that nurses from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) were used to plug the gaps during the nationwide nurse’s strike is not only unprecedented, but it raises far more questions than the Minister has answered.
“It has been nearly a fortnight since that strike and the public was only told today that Defence Force personnel were propping up our health service. It just shows how much of a mess the Government’s management of the nurses’ industrial dispute has become.
“When Health Minister David Clark said that the talks to prepare for the nurses strike were an ‘operational issue' between DHBs and nurses and the Government was taking a keen interest, he clearly should have told the public that the Government was making arrangements to call in the army to fix the situation that he had helped create.
“The nurses’ strike action is a result of the Government completely mishandling the situation. It raised wage expectations and then failed to meet them, instead prioritising other spending.
“While the health of New Zealanders is a top priority, it shouldn’t be left to the NZDF to cover for this Government’s failings.
“In a time when we are asking our Defence Force to do more, both domestically and internationally, it’s not appropriate that the Government is trying to cover up the consequences of their mishandling with nurses who have roles and responsibilities elsewhere.”
The Government’s failure to reach an agreement on pay rises for 27,000 nurses means that strike action will commence in less than 48 hours as a result of the Government significantly raising expectations in Opposition, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The effect of this strike on patients and the wider health sector will be extremely significant. All elective surgeries will be cancelled and only life-preserving services will take place in our hospitals for 24 hours.
“The elective surgeries that have been and are being cancelled in preparation for the strike include cardiac surgery, surgeries for cancer and joint replacements. These patients may have been waiting some time for their procedures and will be devastated to learn that they are no longer going to take place.
“This will have a significant impact on patients and their families who would have made arrangements, taken time off work and otherwise emotionally prepared for their scheduled surgery only to have it cancelled.
“It’s clear that nurses were unhappy with the Government simply shifting the deck chairs on the original offer and they have now decided to push for more Government money.
“The nurses were also frustrated that the Government entered the facilitation process saying ‘that’s all the money there is’ and this is the effect of it. This move did not reflect good faith bargaining and it is now unclear how the situation will be resolved.
“The DHBs requested a reconvening of facilitation, however, NZNO has decided that due to the lack of additional funding to support an improved offer this is not appropriate.
“The Government has completely lost control of the process due to its mishandling. Because the Government restricted the facilitation process it is now likely to be unavailable to aid in resolving the negotiations.
“It is unclear where the process goes from here now that facilitation seems to be unavailable. The Government must regain control of the situation and settle with the nurses as soon as possible to minimise the impact of this strike on patients and the sector.”
The impact of nurse’s strike action will be felt from tomorrow even though the Government is still claiming that the strike may be averted, National Party spokesperson for Health Michael Woodhouse says.
“Health Minister David Clark not only had the audacity to stare down the nurses over their last offer but the Workplace Relations Minister Ian Lees-Galloway claimed in select committee today that these strikes are still likely to be averted.
“Let’s be realistic here. The effects of this strike will be felt from tomorrow. There has been advice that all elective services will need to be cancelled in advance so the wards are as empty as possible in order to transition to the life preserving service provision level for the July 5 strike.
“Elective surgeries that are likely to be cancelled include cardiac surgery, surgeries for cancer and joint replacements. These patients may have been waiting some time for their procedures and will be devastated to learn that they are no longer going to take place.
“The Minister must clarify whether those patients will be pushed back with a knock on effect on all elective surgeries or if those who miss out will be bumped to the bottom of the list.
“Due to the fact that the next day of striking is only a week later, these complex surgeries may be postponed and by more than a fortnight causing considerable disruption.
“While the main impact of this strike is on the patients, the health sector will be forking out considerable sums of money for staff rostered while elective procedures are cancelled for up to a fortnight.
“We are now at zero hour; unless the strike is averted now patients will suffer even if it doesn’t go ahead.”
Labour’s reprehensible demonisation of foreigners prior to the election has been laid bare by confirmation today that its promise to slash migration was nothing but a cynical attempt to win votes from NZ First, National’s Judith Collins and Michael Woodhouse say.
“Prior to the election Labour cynically blamed foreigners for rising house prices, including through its infamous ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ campaign, and it threatened to slash the number of migrants by up to 30,000 a year,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“All along employers and the National Party told them they were wrong and that we needed the skills and capital those migrants bring.
“Today Labour has admitted they were wrong when they said we needed to ‘take a breather’ and while we welcome the belated realisation, the fact is the changes announced today are nothing more than a branding exercise.
“Construction sector occupations were already on the skills shortage lists meaning it was already easier for construction workers to come here because National knew they were important all along.”
“The announcement comes after Housing Minister Phil Twyford yesterday told Parliament there were no plans to bring foreign tradespeople into New Zealand to work on KiwiBuild houses,” Ms Collins says.
“This indicates either an unwillingness to tell the truth or that Mr Twyford didn’t know his own policy or what his colleagues were doing.
“KiwiBuild has staggered from failure to failure and Mr Twyford has continued to show he has no idea what he’s doing.
“In the last few days he’s confirmed some KiwiBuild-backed apartments might be sold to foreigners, that they might be built by foreign flat-pack companies, that he’s been meeting with Chinese banks to fund them and now he says they’re going to be built by foreigners.
“This is a shameless climbdown and there’s nothing Kiwi left in KiwiBuild.”
The latest failure to reach an agreement on pay rises for 27,000 nurses brings strike action another step closer, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Nurses and DHBs held further mediation last night and failed to reach an agreement following the decision of nurses to reject the DHB’s latest offer.
“The nurses have not accepted the revised pay offer after this Government made it clear it is expecting them to accept the same overall pay packet they were originally unhappy with.
“Before nurses had the chance to decide on the original offer the Government, through the media, told them that the dollar figure on the offer would not shift, even though urgent negotiations were to take place – this is extremely poor form.
“After prioritising $2.8 billion for tertiary fees free and $1 billion for New Zealand First’s provincial slush fund the Government claimed it has ‘gone as far as [it] can in terms of extra Government money’ for nurses.
“This is not good enough. Patients, the New Zealand public and the wider health sector should not have to bear the burden of striking because the Government chose to prioritise election bribes over health.
“It now comes as no surprise that the nurses have rejected the rearranged offer and the ERA have been called in to try and reach an agreement.
“The Government raised expectations for wage increases across a number of sectors including in health and now, in the eleventh hour, the Government needs to find a way to meet these expectations for nurses.
“The situation is not looking good. The strike notice has been issued for the impending July 5th strike which is just eight days away with another notice for July 12 likely to be issued this week.
“The Government will have to do more than shuffle the numbers around to avoid disruptive strike action, especially if the ERA make a recommendation for settlement that is significantly higher than the current offer.”
The Government’s cancellation of the national health targets is a concerning step that will cost lives, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“These targets drove improvement in the areas that New Zealanders care about. Significant increases in the number of elective surgeries and immunisations, as well as faster cancer treatment and improved children’s health were all partially driven by these targets and the health sector’s commitment to them.
“Research shows our Shorter Stays in ED target which aimed to have 95 per cent of patients admitted, discharged or transferred from EDs around the country within six hours resulted in a 57 per cent reduction in the death rate of ED patients - saving around 700 lives a year.
“This target was put in place in 2009 after emergency physicians highlighted that the overcrowded hospital wards and EDs under Labour were costing lives.
“You can’t prove or improve what you don’t measure. Health Minister David Clark’s claim that more surgeries will be performed is easy to make when there will be no public measure of any increase or decrease in elective surgeries.
“The Government has also stopped reporting on the National Patient Flow project which has been underway since July 2014 and aimed to improve DHBs referral systems, administration processes, and communications with patients to better understand patient outcomes and unmet need.
“These targets not only let us see exactly the kind of difference the money we invested was making for real people, they also gave public servants a clear focus on what they needed to do to improve lives.
“The previous Labour Government poured money into the health system with minimal targeting and in some areas it went backwards. More than 35,000 people were culled from elective surgery waiting lists and elective surgery numbers actually dropped, despite funding increases.
“Health isn’t the only area that Labour has abolished targets in. They have also abandoned the whole of government Better Public Services targets. This Government is trying to avoid accountability by refusing to publish important information about the delivery of public services.
“The Government’s decision to abolish the health targets will cost lives if the focus and public scrutiny on better, faster healthcare in specific areas is lessened.”
The Health Minister today admitted he has been misleading the New Zealand public on health spending to hide his broken promises and to mask the fact that he did not deliver to the expectations he raised, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Minister of Health David Clark confirmed to the health select committee today that the $8 billion campaign pledge was both equivocal and grossly misleading.
“The Government are using figures to make the previous Government’s record look as bad as possible when they didn’t deliver any more funding than National would have.
“They need to front up to the New Zealand public and explain why they set an expectation that there would be $8 billion more than the previous Government would have put into Vote Health.
“One of the consequences of the failure to meet the lofty expectations that the Minister has set is the deep disappointment among health professionals and the notice of strike action by nurses today.
“Even the Deputy Prime Minister admitted this to media when he conceded ‘perhaps the expectations that we’ve given them are too high.’
“The health sector lacks leadership by the Minister, and the examples the select committee heard of his appalling management of the Middlemore Hospital issues and his poor treatment of board members are a good indication that he is out of his depth.”