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Letter to the editor – More useless reassurances from our Dear Leader

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Wed, Jul 29, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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Admissions by our esteemed Prime Minister that the TPPA will impact on Pharmac’s ability to source cheap, generic medicines from overseas, are deeply troubling.

On 25 July, Trade Minister, Tim Groser, said;

“…yes, I can guarantee that we’ve made it absolutely clear that we are not going to dismantle the fundamental of Pharmac. The provisions that guarantee affordable medicines – we don’t want to change the system of health we’ve got in our country so that people can get medicines only if they can afford it. We’ve got a very good system, and we’re not going to let any trade agreement interfere with that.”

Three days later, Key conceded;

“That means the Government will have to pay for the original drug rather than the generic for a little bit longer. But for consumers that won’t make any difference because, you know, on subsidised drugs you pay $5 for your prescription so the Government may incur slightly more costs there.”

It is not the government that ” will have to pay for the original drug rather than the generic for a little bit longer”. That honour falls on the taxpayer.

Those extra costs may be reimbursed by the government – at the expense of other health services which will see their budgets slashed. National has a track record of shifting money around in the Health Budget.

Will National increase prescription charges again, as they did in 2013? Increasing prescription charges from $3 to $5 hit poor families the hardest.

The secretive nature of negotiations have proven that there was good reason to be suspicious of the TPPA.

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-Frank Macskasy

 

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[Address and phone numbr supplied]


 

References

Radio NZ:  TPP – Key admits medicine costs will rise

TV3: The Nation – Transcript – Trade Minister Tim Groser

Previous related blogposts

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

 


 

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TPPA-cartoon-558x400

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Letter to the editor – More reassurances from our esteemed Dear Leader?

29 July 2015 1 comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: Wed, Jul 29, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
The Listener

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Recent admission by our esteemed Prime Minister that the TPPA will likely see an increase in pharmaceutical costs for Pharmac is both disturbing but unsurprising. The secretive nature of the TPPA negotiations hinted at a “sting in the tail” that would impact on our healthcare.

On 25 July, Foreign Trade Minister, Tim Groser, promised hand on heart in an interview on ‘The Nation';

“…yes, I can guarantee that we’ve made it absolutely clear that we are not going to dismantle the fundamental of Pharmac. The provisions that guarantee affordable medicines – we don’t want to change the system of health we’ve got in our country so that people can get medicines only if they can afford it. We’ve got a very good system, and we’re not going to let any trade agreement interfere with that.”

But only three days later, Key conceded;

“That means the Government will have to pay for the original drug rather than the generic for a little bit longer. But for consumers that won’t make any difference because, you know, on subsidised drugs you pay $5 for your prescription so the Government may incur slightly more costs there.”

Key’s assurances are questionable.

It should be pointed out that it is not Government that “will have to pay for the original drug rather than the generic for a little bit longer” – it is the taxpayer.

That extra cost for medicines will have to come from the Health Budget and one has to ask what will be cut back? Hip operations for the elderly? Grommets for children? Eye cataract surgery for the blind? National has a track record for shifting money from one area of healthcare to another, to appear as if funding has been “increased” for the lucky recipient.

Or will National simply increase prescription charges to cover increased pharmaceutical costs for Pharmac? National has already increased prescription charges from $3 to $5 in 2013 – a move that impacted on the sickest, poorest, and most vulnerable in this country.

Not for one moment do I accept Key’s assurances on this issue. He has gone back on his word before, and I expect him to do it again.

-Frank Macskasy

 

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[address and phone number supplied]


 

References

Radio NZ:  TPP – Key admits medicine costs will rise

TV3: The Nation – Transcript – Trade Minister Tim Groser

Previous related blogposts

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


 

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toby morris - tppa - cartoon

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Letter to the editor – If Serco was the answer, what was the question?

28 July 2015 2 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jul 26, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Our esteemed prime minister, John Key, recently made statements minimising Serco’s mis-management of Mt Eden Prison.

On 26 July, on TV1’s Q+A, Key said,

“And so the point will be, I think what it will show is on reported instances , that SERCO ‘s about consistant with the others [prisons]… as far as sexual assaults and violent assaults, I think you’ll see Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons.”


And in the NZ Herald, on 23 July, Key was reported;

Mr Key defended National’s prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails.


If, as Mr Key maintains, there is no appreciable difference between privately managed or State-run prisons – then what is the point of contracting Serco to run Mt Eden and Wiri Prisons?

Why are we taxpayers paying out hundreds of millions of dollars of our money to a private company, when, as John Key tells us, “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons”?

What is the point in  paying this company to do a job no better or worse than our own Corrections Dept?

In fact, there seems to be no point.

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-Frank Macskasy

 

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[address and phone number supplied]

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National fiddles – while Cancer Kills

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say-no-to-cancer

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Fun Fact 1: New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages). Ministry of Health

Fun Fact 2: Bowel cancer is more common as you get older, particularly from the age of 50. Bowel cancer affects more men than women. IBID

Fun Fact 3: People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and receive treatment when it is at an early stage, have a 90% chance of long term survival. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and the cancer is more advanced, it is harder to cure. Bowel screening can detect cancer early, when it can be more successfully treated.  IBID

It is a sobering statistic that we try to ignore and put out of our minds; more than 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1,200 die from the disease. If that were a death toll from a communicable disease, the media would be carrying front page newspaper stories  and lead bulletins on 6PM news. The government would impose a State of Emergency, and strict travel conditions imposed on everyone.

But we don’t.

Bowel cancer is hidden away. Victims are not acknowledged.   People go about their every day lives. Media focuses on sensationalism or trivia (with few exceptions).  Government does nothing. The death toll continues to rise.

And it is wholly preventable.

In October 2011, the Ministry of Health began a four-year-long bowel screening pilot in the Waitemata District Health Board area. The screening was offered to  everyone aged between  50 to 74, living within  the Waitemata DHB zone, and who was eligible for publicly funded healthcare. Those lucky to be eligible were sent an invitation letter, a consent form along with detailed instructions, and the necessary free bowel-screening test kit.

By July 2013,  data from the screening pilot detected cancers  in seventyfive people within the first fifteen months of the pilot. Around 60% had been picked up at an early stage when they could be more successfully treated.

Between  1 January 2012 to 31 December 2013,  six thousand people had a colonoscopy or a CT colonography through the Bowel Screening Pilot.  By 1 April 2015, two hundred and fiftyfive people had been identified with a cancer.

Those are 255 people who might not have approached their medical clinic for a test screening kit, or followed up with a colonoscopy. Those are 255 people whose cancer was detected early, and who had necessary treatment.

The pilot screening have also picked up non-cancerous polyps (adenomas) and those  participants will still be at an  increased risk of developing more adenomas or bowel cancer. These participants will require on-going regular bowel checks  in the future.

The initial four year pilot project, initially costing $24 million, was extended to the end of 2017, with a further $12.4 million invested in the programme. But only in the Waitemata District Health Board area. Those living outside the WDHB are not eligible to participate.

That result is from just one DHB “catchement” area. There are twenty DHBs  throughout the country. If similar results were obtained from the nineteen other DHBs, that could mean approximately 5,100 people detected with cancer.

The government’s response can best be described as slow – at worst, reluctant to invest in a nationwide programme. On 6 July, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a graduated roll-out of a nationwide screening programme.

First, Minister Coleman began with the usual meaningless platitudes;

Delivering better cancer services is a top priority for the Government. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.”

Minister Coleman then explained in a little more detail;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017.”

However, note the caveats;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out….”

To inform the next steps towards a possible roll out of a national bowel screening programme, the Ministry of Health will be consulting with the health sector and other agencies on how the service could be provided across the DHBs.”

So not only will any nationwide extension of the life-saving screening programme not begin until “early” 2017 – which happens to be an election year (no connection of course)  – but at this stage it is still only  a   “possible” or “potential staged roll out”. At this point, Coleman will be only be taking “a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year”.

Unsurprisingly, health advocates and professionals are not impressed

Bowel Cancer NZ’s, Dr Sarah Derrett, did not hold back when she condemned National’s lethargic response to the sucessful screeing programme;

Currently this Government is more interested in holding a referendum for a flag as a legacy to our Prime Minister at a cost of $26.5 million than it is at saving lives… it was scandalous there had been no action on a national programme, given 1200 people a year die from bowel cancer in New Zealand.

Bowel Cancer NZ’s chairwoman, Mary Bradley, was also scathing;

We are really pleased that this is happening and that they are talking about a staged roll-out, but we would like to see potential moved to definite roll-out in 2017.

We would like to see a staged roll out now or a start next year would be fantastic. We’ve always known it [screening] is proven, so why wasn’t it done sooner. It could have happened a couple of years ago. This is great, but it’s taken a long time to get here. In the meantime, people are dying.

There is no feasible reason why Coleman is delaying a national extension of this screening programme that has already saved 255 people.  Delaying the roll out condemns hundreds of New Zealanders to a horrible illness and unnecessary death.

Coleman claims that that the delay is caused by a shortage of skilled staff;

The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.

[…]

Initiatives to strengthen the endoscopy workforce include increasing the number of gastroenterology trainees. The sector is also considering increasing the use of CT colonography where appropriate.

Yet, the pilot programme has been in operation since October 2011 – giving this government a lead time of five years to begin training required staff. Where was the planning for staffing a nationwide screening programme that was being considered after the  Waitemata DHB pilot?

Did no one at the Ministry of Health or the Health Minister’s office pause to think; “Ok, what happens after the pilot?!

The only possible explanation for this tardiness is purely financial. As Bill English attempts to balance the books and deliver a budget surplus, cuts to health services become more invasive;

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Health fund loses $18 million

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National’s reluctance to spend on much-needed, critical services is no secret. Successive National governments have cut services, whilst giving away billions in tax cuts.

But it is also not averse to spending taxpayers’ money on projects it deems “necessary”;

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NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

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Flag referendum to cost $26M

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

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Those four examples alone come to $78.5 million that could have been invested in rolling out a nationwide bowel screening programme plus pay for training of required specialist staff. Instead, the money has been spent on a luxury apartment; bribing a Saudi businessman; John Key’s vanity-project to change the flag; and acceding to a multi-national corporation’s demands for a cash subsidy.

This is worse than wasting tax-payer’s hard-earned money.

New Zealanders are dying whilst National fiddles and wastes time.

It is not the first time this has happened;

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Public hospital ills blamed on fund - Otago Daily Times - 20 august 1999

‘Public hospital ills blamed on fund’ – “Otago Daily Times” – 20 August 1999

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'Four forced off waiting list die',

‘Four forced off waiting list die’, “The Press”, 15 March 1999

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On 21 July, I wrote to Minister Coleman on the issue;

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Kia ora Dr Coleman,

I understand that you plan to “take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017″.

Considering that a Ministry of Health  pilot programme carried out by the Waitemata District Health Board since October 2011 has saved the lives of approximately two hundred and fiftyfive people who had been identified with a cancer, it seems unbelievable that New Zealanders will have to wait at least another year and a half before a screening programme is rolled out nationally.

You stated on 6 July this year that;

“The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.” (https://www.national.org.nz/news/news/media-releases/detail/2015/07/06/Consultation-on-next-steps-for-bowel-screening-programme)

Surely the training of skilled staff should have been started in 2011, when the pilot programme at Waitemata was initiated?

Waiting until the beginning of 2017 means that thousands of people around the country may be stricken by bowel cancer.

How many will contract the illness during the time it takes to extend the screening programme?

The Ministry of Health states;

More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages) (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/cancer-programme/bowel-cancer-programme/about-bowel-cancer)

I urge you to re-visit this problem and to begin an immediate, strategic  roll-out throughout the country, so that screening can begin to take place.

It is simply unacceptable that 1,200 New Zealanders will perish this year; next year; and the year after, when an effective screening programme is available to save their lives.

If this government can spend $78.5 million on a Saudi farm; a Manhattan apartment; an aluminium smelter; and a flag referendum – then spending at least half that amount to save lives should not be beyond us.

2017 may be an election year – but we should not have to wait until then. Not when thousands of lives are at risk.

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One of Minister Coleman’s staff replied the following day;

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The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your email may take some weeks.

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Time, evidently, is not of the essence here.

What is truly shameful is not that a National government Minister is prevaricating on this critical medical problem – but that the Minister in question is a qualified medical clinician.

He, more than any other politician, should know better.

Somewhere in this country, another person has just developed bowel cancer. And doesn’t know it.

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References

Ministry of Health: About bowel cancer

Ministry of Health: Bowel screening pilot

Comprehensive Care: Bowel Screening programme successes

Radio NZ:  Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – January 2012 to September 2014 – How many colonoscopies have been performed?

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – Round 2 – January to December 2014 – Footnotes

Ministry of Health: DHB Location boundaries (map)

National Party: Consultation on next steps for bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Health fund loses $18 million

Fairfax media: NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

TV3 News: Flag referendum to cost $26M

TVNZ News: Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

National Party: Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman

Previous related blogposts

Unhealthy Health Cuts

Priorities?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 July 2015.

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Letter to the editor – John Key’s broken promises, a habit?

26 July 2015 4 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: Thu, Jul 23, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Sunday Star Times

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If recent recent comments by Finance Minister, Bill English, are any indication, National appears to be engaging in a “softening up the public” exercise for further asset sales. On 23 July, English announced at a Commerce Commission conference;

“Why do you want us to keep owning broadcast media – it was worth a billion, it’s worth $300 million today, and soon it will be worth nothing. Same with post offices – was worth a billion, worth $300 million today, soon be worth nothing.” (Radio NZ, “No plans to sell SOE ‘relics’ – English”)

Yet, only seven months before last year’s September General Election, our esteemed Prime Minister promised no further asset sales after Genesis Energy was partially privatised;

“The truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme, or they sit in the category that they are very large like Transpower but are monopoly assets so aren’t suited.” (NZ Herald, “PM: no more SOEs to sell after Genesis”

One can only assume that collapsing dairy prices will impact on tax revenue to a greater magnitude than the government has been advised and English is desperate to look at any alternative income revenue.

The sale of State houses was an unmitigated disaster. It seems that other State assets may be on the block soon.

So much for John Key keeping his word.

This is becoming a habit.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address & phone number supplied]

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References

NZ Herald: PM – no more SOEs to sell after Genesis

Radio NZ: No plans to sell SOE ‘relics’ – English

 

 


 

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Letter to the editor – John Key’s legacy?

25 July 2015 2 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jul 24, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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Past Prime Ministers have created legacies that have marked their contribution to this country.

Michael Joseph Savage set up the welfare system and State housing, to alleviate the very worst poverty New Zealand was facing during the Great Depression. Savage would not tolerate the ravages of poverty in a country of plenty like New Zealand.

Norman Kirk’s tenure as Prime Minister was tragically cut short due to illness, but during his brief service to this country, he was instrumental in making our opposition to French atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific known to the world. We became a world leader in opposing atomic weapons, gradually moving humanity from the insanity of a thermonuclear war.

David Lange built on Norman Kirk’s legacy, and announced to the world that New Zealand would become Nuclear Free. Under his watch, gay equality took a giant step forward, removing homosexuality as a criminal offence – something we now take for granted in the 21st century.

What will John Key’s legacy be to this country? Addressing pressing problems surrounding child poverty? Leading the world once again in environmental issues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

No, it appears that our esteemed Prime Minister’s legacy is predicated on changing our flag.

Not exactly what one might call a pressing problem of our generation.

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-Frank Macskasy

 

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[address & phone number supplied]

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Letter to the editor – softening us up for another broken promise?

23 July 2015 3 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Thu, Jul 23, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Recent comments by Finance Minister, Bill English, appear to be an exercise for “softening up” the public to further asset sales. On 23 July, English announced at a Commerce Commission conference;

“Why do you want us to keep owning broadcast media – it was worth a billion, it’s worth $300 million today, and soon it will be worth nothing. Same with post offices – was worth a billion, worth $300 million today, soon be worth nothing.” (Radio NZ, “No plans to sell SOE ‘relics’ – English”)

Is this a prelude to another broken promise from National?

Seven months before the 2014 General Election, our esteemed Prime Minister promised no further asset sales after Genesis Energy was partially privatised;

“The truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme, or they sit in the category that they are very large like Transpower but are monopoly assets so aren’t suited.” (NZ Herald, “PM: no more SOEs to sell after Genesis”

National is facing a greatly reduced tax revenue as collapsing Dairy prices impact on our economy.

If National wants to sell more assets, they should call an early election and seek a mandate. Otherwise they are breaking yet another election promise.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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References

NZ Herald: PM – no more SOEs to sell after Genesis

Radio NZ: No plans to sell SOE ‘relics’ – English


 

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John Key - carpet sale - Dannevirke

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