The conventional wisdom is that Tony Ryall is making a good fist of the Health portfolio. Now that I am up close in the area I can say that he keeps a tight rein on matters health, and is managing the portfolio effectively. But there is a big difference between managing the politics of health and actually doing what is right for the long term health outcomes of New Zealanders.
The best evidence of that is the release today of the Child Health Monitor Report. It shows, among other things, that in the last two years there have been an additional 5 000 avoidable hospital admissions for things like respiratory illness and skin infections. The authors of the report note that the cost of going to the doctor, especially after hours is a factor in whether children are getting the healthcare they need, along with a range factors associated with child poverty.
I am not saying all of this is down to the Health policy of the current government. But the focus on the narrow range of health targets set by the Minister means that child health is not the priority it should be. The Minister has narrowed the health targets in such a way as to scratch the itches of waiting lists and time spent in ED, but it is at the expense of early intervention and public health programmes. District Health Boards have responded by pursuing the Minister’s targets, spending on public health has been slashed ($124 million in the last Budget) and funding for primary care has failed to keep up with inflation.
Just managing the Health portfolio is not enough. I actually think it is irresponsible to avoid the long term investments that will lead to long term health benefits in favour of things that are designed to fit on a coloured chart and make the Minister look good.
Labour, through Annette King, has already outlined our Agenda for Children that will put children’s well being at the centre of our social policy. More details will be announced in the election, but from a health policy point of view public health and affordable and accessible primary care must be a priority.