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Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

11 January 2013 25 comments

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hodgson-cartoon-12-sept

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There was a time in New Zealand when health professionals like the legendary Doctor Smith created the first health system in the Hokianga without a single bureaucrat in sight. Until health management was corporatised under National 20 years ago the Coast had some outstanding no-nonsense characters in the public system but the intervening period has seen such people increasingly undermined by irrelevant bureaucracy and absurd political agendas.” – David Tranter, 9 January 2013

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After the spectacular cock-ups by Education Minister, Hekia Parata, it seems that the Health sector is next in line for the “National Treatment”.

Tony Ryall has demanded that the Health Budget be cut by $30 million this financial year (see:  Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery) Cuts to elective procedures that National’s spin-meisters “deemed to be of little benefit” are being planned – and details released to the media during the new season/holiday period when the public’s attention is focused on relaxation, barbecues, beaches, and “sinking a few coldies“.

Most of the mainstream media is also still “on holiday”, with minimal current affairs and investigative reporting being carried out by Radio NZ, TV3, and TV1. Only print media is reporting National’s covert cost-cutting programme – and even then, the Herald seems to be printing comments such as,

The National Health Committee has to find savings of $30 million this financial year from elective procedures deemed to be of little benefit.

The money would be used for smarter investment in other parts of the health system.

See: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

Note no quotation marks anywhere through those two paragraphs. The statements are presented as reported fact – not as government media  statement reflecting National Party policy.

This appears to be a re-run of National’s disastrous  “health reforms”  of the late 1990s,

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[National] Govt refuses extra ENT funding - ODT - 27 March 1997

Govt refuses extra ENT funding – ODT – 27 March 1997

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Call for funds  - ODT - 1 April 1997

Call for funds – ODT – 1 April 1997

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Wait for grommets a worry - ODT - 16 April 1997

Wait for grommets a worry – ODT – 16 April 1997

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Child health-care 'neglected' - ODT - 22 May 1997

Child health-care ‘neglected’ – ODT – 22 May 1997

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Sick children wait 2 years for surgery - ODT - 28 July 1997

Sick children wait 2 years for surgery – ODT – 28 July 1997

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Grommet 'blitz' clears backlog - ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet ‘blitz’ clears backlog – ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet 'blitz' clears backlog - ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet ‘blitz’ clears backlog – ODT 19 November 1998

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By the time Labour came to power in late 1999, the public Health system was a mess. National had gutted healthcare through funding cuts; increased management-bureacracy; closures; low salaries for front-line staff; and a slavish adherence to right wing dogma over the needs of communities and people.

The new incoming Labour-led government had much to re-build,

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$1.5b injection for health - 9 December 2001

$1.5b injection for health – 9 December 2001

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(When National supporters talk of Labour “wasting money” during their nine years in government – this is what they are actually referring to: the re-building of our public services.)

Note the weasel-words from Roger Sowry, National’s health spokesperson, in the above article,

Roger Sowry dismissed the announcement as a cynical, political move to hose down hotspots in health, including angst over waiting lists, DHB debts and health workers striking for higher  pay.

[...]

“It’s about politics. It’s not about the patient. It’s about saying we’ve got a problem with health, we can get a story out that there’s   a big lot of money coming down the barrel – it’s  about buying a comfort level for the next election.”

Roger Sowry should know about “hosing down hotspots in health, including angst over waiting lists, DHB debts and health workers striking for higher  pay” –  that is precisely the mess that National  left this country up until they were booted out in 1999.

The above stories are just a tiny few of the headlines from the 1990s.

Here are a few more that Mr Sowry might recognise – or should recognise. They all happened on his watch,

Claim many burned out by health sector reforms – 21 December 1996

Minister asked to halt job cuts  – 24 December 1996

Retiring GP pleased to escape growing bureacracy – 3 January 1997

$1m of health funds spent to date on rent for empty office space – 25 January 1997

More health changes tipped – 8 March 1997

Health reforms ‘harebrained’ – 15 March 1997

Rural abdication mockery of health system –  22 May 1997

Must pay for ‘wants’  – 19 July 1997

Cuts to hospital services expected – 8 August  1997

Move for sick to pay more  – 12 October 1997

English gives surgery pledge –  12 October 1997

Death The Northland Way – The Star – 15 October 1997

CHE announces cuts to public nursing hours – 15 October 1997

The Nation’s Health – 1 November 1997

‘Serious flaws’ in Govt’s health funding formula  – 31 January 1998

Privatising the public health system  – 2 February 1998

GP hits out at health reforms – 3 February 1998

Acute heart surgery list nearly 400  – 5 February 1998

Funding for Dunedin eye clinic slashed –  26 February 1998

Anger on heart op delay – 12 April 1998

Poorer patients put off doctors’ visits –  29 March 1998

Shipley, Bolger sorry for deaths of patients – 3 April 1998

Booking systems risky process, surgeon says  – 8 April 1998

Deaths hangs over boost in health funds – 9 April – 1998

Life on the waiting list uncertain – 9 April 1998

English may review waiting list funding –  11 April 1998

Health cuts spell doom for services – 30 April 1998

English agrees system flawed – 19 May 1998

Hospitals now owe $1.3 billion – 4 June 1998

100 drop off surgery lists  – 10 October 1998

Health sector needs stability, minister says – 28 January 1999

Four forced off waiting list die  – 15 March 1999

Patients ‘no better off’ – 29 March 1999

Widow says little improvement seem – 3 April 1999

Hospital waiting lists nudge 200,000 – 4 April 1999

Staff shortages could hit patient care, say nurses  – 4 May 1999

NZ heart attack victims likelier to die – 7 August 1999

Public hospital ills blamed on funding – 20 August 1999

Health spending rates poorly – 24 August 1999

Home Invasion – 24 June 2000

etc, etc…

That was the way we were in the 1990s; hospital budgets slashed resulting in chronic under-funding; growing privatisation of  healthcare; medical staff leaving New Zealand; bureacratic management growing; and people like Rau Williams, Colin Morrison, and others dying on waiting lists… all while a National-led government blundered on.

Things became so bad that even medical professions like the Royal Australasian College of Opthalmologists took to placing advertisements in newspapers, absolving  themselves of all blame and responsibility for the country’s chaotic and collapsing health system,

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Cataract surgery fact & fiction - advertisement - 6 October 1998

Cataract surgery fact & fiction – advertisement – 6 October 1998

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And while medical professions around the country distanced themselves from National’s non-stop bungling, others were jumping in, keen to exploit people’s fears and uncertainties for profit,

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Heartwatch Insurance Cover - advertisement - Otago Daily Times - 21 February 1998

Heartwatch Insurance Cover – advertisement – Otago Daily Times – 21 February 1998

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If you feel uncertain about the future…”

Talk about manipulating people’s fears.

What sort of society were we becoming that the callous exploitation of people’s   misery was somehow acceptable behaviour?! Was this the path that New Zealand had taken?

Or was our collective disgust finally being voiced with this statement,

I get a sense that the public is saying in quite a specific way, enough’s enough, we can’t take any more, you’ve got to stop, you’ve gone to far.” – Ian Powell,  Association for Salaried Medical Specialists, on Health cuts by the National-led government, 1 November 1997

The Minister of Health at the time, Bill English, and his colleagues – many of whom are still in Parliament (like Tony Ryall) – have much  to answer for.  For this was their legacy.

It now appears that they have not learned the lessons of that dark decade.

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Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

Full story

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Govt's proposed health cuts could affect children - Labour

Full story

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Doubt over savings from restricting ear treatment

Full story

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Oh dear lord, not again!!

It appears that National may be hell-bent of repeating it’s ghastly performance of the 1990s – especially the late ’90s, where people died as a result of the then-National-government’s ineptitude.

And didn’t we go through a similar exercise in reducing grommet operations for our children in 1997 and 1998?!?! Oh yes, we did.

The three Herald articles above repeat the same mantra over and over again,

The National Health Committee, which is responsible to Health Minister Tony Ryall, is trying to find $30 million of savings in the public health system for reinvestment in more effective or better-targeted treatments.

See: IBID

What  investment could possibly be “more effective or better-targeted “ than  treating glue ear in children???

What “investment” could be better than removing a potential barrier for children to learn at school – a barrier called deafness, caused by glue-ear?!

The so-called “National Health Committee” are not new to this kind of narrow, anti-social thinking. They’ve been around for quite a few years and were involved in National’s blundering healthcare “reforms” – policies which led to the needless deaths of Colin Morrison, Rau Williams, and others.

This media report in the “Sunday Star Times”, on 12 October 1997, illustrates the sort of repulsive “philosophy” which this nasty little ‘Quango’ comes up with, from time to time.

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Move for sick to pay more - Sunday Star Times - 12 October 1997

Source: Sunday Star Times

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Note the comments high-lighted in red,

Patient charges could be increased to pay for more health care, according to a draft report by the high-powered Government adviser the National Health Committee.

[...]

If user part-charges were high enough, the report said people’s ability and willingness to pay them would be a way of deciding which demands for publicly-funded services should be met.

Make no mistake. What these invisible, faceless, nameless bureacrats were suggesting to the then-National government was that raising “user part-charges” would deter certain classes of people from accessing the health service.

For example, if you were poor.  Or unemployed. Or a solo-parent. Or a pensioner. Perhaps Samoan or Maori. This was the power of the State being used to determine who lives and who dies – not on clinical grounds – but on your ability to pay.

The article goes on to state,

The report said funding for health and disability services should be directed at services which:

  • Showed good effectiveness or benefit with those standing to gain the most receiving services first.
  • Are the best value for public money.
  • Are a fair use of resources

[...]

It said people must be prepared to made trade-offs to achieve  a sensible mix of proven, cost-effective services.

I don’t know about the reader, but these remarks chill me to the bone. These are bean-counters giving advice to the Minister of Health; advice which measures outcomes according to “ the best value for public money” and if  “user part-charges were high enough…  people’s ability and willingness to pay them would be a way of deciding” who has access to life-giving medical care.

The only thing missing here is what do they advise we do with the corpses of people who did not have the  “ability and willingness to pay”  for “ high enough user part-charges“.

Perhaps ovens…? User-pays of course. With the bill for incineration being forwarded to next-of-kin…

Which leads us to the next question;

The “National Health Committee” – Who Are They?

Who are the so-called “National Health Committee” and what are their qualifications to be making recommendations on our healthcare system?

The Committee comprises of these kindly-looking folk,

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NHC members

Source

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Mrs Anne Kolbe

Chair

- specialist paediatric surgeon and an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine.

Dr Mark O’Carroll

- is a Respiratory Physician at Auckland City Hospital with subspecialty interests in Cystic Fibrosis, Lung Transplantation and Interventional Pulmonology.

Mr Craig Climo

- management.

Mr Ross Laidlaw

- retired corporate lawyer.

Ms Sharon Mariu

-  consultancy  in strategic and business development.

Mr Alex Price

- Chief Executive of Fertility Associates [...] He holds a chemical engineering degree, an MBA from IMD, Switzerland and a graduate certificate in reproductive medicine from the University of New South Wales.

Source

Of the six committee members, only two have medical qualifications  as practititioners. The rest are ex-lawyers, bean-counters, pricey consultants, and business-types.

These are the bean-counters – faceless and nameless no more – who are now suggesting that savings in the country’s Health budget could be made by effectively stealing $30 million away from our children who need grommets for their ears.

The committee members – with their usual euphemisms – called the cost-cutting, “disinvestment“. I kid you not. See: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

So taking away a surgical procedure which gives our children a better chance at school – because they can actually hear what is being said in the classroom – is “disinvestment“?!

I call it naked selfishness and thieving from the vulnerable. So this is what the term “stealing candy from a baby” means.

I think every one of these “kindly-looking folk” should hang their heads in shame and resign their arses from this odious little quango. We have enough child poverty and poverty-related disease in this country without people like this lot, funded by us the taxpayer, adding to it with revolting policy-advice.

The New Year is just barely over a week old, and already we are reading stories of National’s intentions toward us and our children.

How many will suffer and/or die this time?

Addendum

Date:   Fri, 11 Jan 2013 at 1:45
From: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
Subject:Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall?
To: “Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz” <Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz>
Bcc: Chris Laidlaw RNZ <sunday@radionz.co.nz>,
“campbelllive@tv3.co.nz” <campbelllive@tv3.co.nz>,
Dominion Post <editor@dompost.co.nz>,
Daily News <editor@dailynews.co.nz>, Daily Post <editor@dailypost.co.nz>,
Hutt News <editor@huttnews.co.nz>, Jim Mora <afternoons@radionz.co.nz>,
“joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz” <joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz>,
Kim Hill <saturday@radionz.co.nz>,
“kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
Listener <editor@listener.co.nz>,
Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>,
NZ Herald <editor@herald.co.nz>,
Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>,
“news@dompost.co.nz” <news@dompost.co.nz>,
“news@radionz.co.nz” <news@radionz.co.nz>,
Otago Daily Times <odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz>,
“primenews@skytv.co.nz” <primenews@skytv.co.nz>, Q+A <Q+A@tvnz.co.nz>,
Southland Times <editor@stl.co.nz>, TVNZ News <news@tvnz.co.nz>,
The Press <letters@press.co.nz>,
The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>,
“tracy.watkins@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <tracy.watkins@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
Waikato Times <editor@waikatotimes.co.nz>,
Wairarapa Times-Age <editor@age.co.nz>,
“wellington.news@tv3.co.nz” <wellington.news@tv3.co.nz>

For the Health Reporter:

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall?

http://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/childrens-health-not-a-high-priority-for-health-minister-tony-ryall/

The “National Health Committee” recently recommended stripping $30 million from the Health budget by cutting back on grommet operations for our children. According to the NHC,  the insertion of grommets is the only elective procedure specifically targeted for “disinvestment”.

Question: Who are the “National Health Committee” ?

Question: What advice did they give to the National government in the late 1990s, which effectively would have meant high “part charges” for medical care, and more people dying needlessly?

Question: Did National try cutting back on grommet operations in the 1990s? What were the consequences?

Question: Why is the “National Health Committee” – an unelected quango that comprises of four business/consultant/lawyer-types and two actual medicos – giving advice to a government that might result in suffering and poor education outcomes for our children?

Question: why has a blogger demanded that the entire “National Health Committee” resign their arses out of that quango?

It’s surprising what one can uncover with a bit of digging around.

-Frank

Blogger

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Cartoonconsult

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References

Scoop: Tony Ryall – Reduction in State agencies confirmed

NZ Herald: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

NZ Herald: Doubt over savings from restricting ear treatment

NZ Herald: Govt’s proposed health cuts could affect children – Labour

NZ Herald: The Hobbit: should we have paid?

Dominion Post:  Children need changes now – commissioner

National Health Committee

Previous related blogposts

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Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

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