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Healthcare a priority

Getting good quality healthcare for Nelson is one of my most important areas of work. It is a difficult area because our population is growing and aging. Medical science is constantly developing expensive new treatments and new drugs that extend and improve the quality of life. These challenges make health hard but this does not excuse the hash Labour is making.

I am getting inundated with complaints from both patients and health professionals. The problem for patients is mainly about access to elective surgery but also about the quality of service. Doctors’ and nurses’ concerns have been about stress and low morale.

Labour’s first decision in health was to cancel specific targets on things like immunisation rates, elective surgery numbers and waiting times in emergency departments. These were publicly reported quarterly by each DHB. They showed how each was doing and ranked its performance relative to the other 20 DHBs.  

It was a mistake to drop these targets seeing how performance has gone backwards in the past two years. The shocking measles epidemic that subsequently spread to Samoa exposed the tragic consequences of our declining immunisation rates. We have also seen a deterioration in times for patients to be seen at emergency departments. The proportion of patients seen within six hours at EDs has declined from 93.1% to 84.8%.

The area I am most concerned is elective surgery. I am seeing people in awful pain because of delays in surgery for hips, knees, cataracts and many other procedures.

The numbers of elective procedures completed at our Nelson and Blenheim hospitals has gone from 5,770 in 2017 to 5,397 in 2018 and to only 4,720 in 2019. That’s 1,000 fewer people getting surgery this year locally under Labour as compared with National.

I do not blame our local DHB, as the numbers have dropped right across New Zealand. The Government has not made elective surgery a priority. The drop has also been a product of the record number of strikes in our hospitals and the ballooning deficits.

Our DHB has just posted a whopping $20 million deficit. It ran small surpluses in each of National’s last three years. Nationally they have blown out to over $1 billion. This financial crisis is impacting on staff morale and health services.

Nor are we seeing any improvement in frontline mental health services locally despite major promises and announcements. The one big area of growth in staff and increased spending has been in Ministry of Health in Wellington where bureaucrats now number over 1150.

Labour is failing to deliver on health for the same reasons Kiwibuild, Auckland light rail and so many other policies have failed. They did not do the work in Opposition and had no plan for delivery. Good intentions and throwing more money at a problem does not necessarily get better results.  

National has just published a Health Discussion Document available from my office or our website. It focuses on front-line services like GPs, elective surgery, cancer care, oral health, disability services and mental health. I welcome feedback on these new ideas.

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