Both Vernon Small and Corin Dann anointed Tony Ryall their politician of the year. Both cited the same reason: When was the last time you heard of a health scandal?
I agree that Tony Ryall is the best politician on National’s front bench. But that doesn’t make him a good Health Minister. By forcing hospitals to focus on delivering short term statistics he can crow about in Parliament and micro-managing any emerging issue that will resonate with National’s base he has managed the politics of the health portfolio sublimely.
But by sucking resources out of public and primary health and refusing to do anything to prevent the looming obesity crisis or the fact that poverty is a primary driver of ill health, Tony Ryall is setting future health ministers up for massive problems. They will have to grapple with a health system that simply will not be able to cope with the demand that will be placed upon it. Very difficult choices will have to be made about how much we spend on health, how the revenue is raised and what the public health system can deliver. If we leave that all too late, drastic steps will need to be taken and the public health system as we know it will cease to exist.
Just like superannuation, National has their head in the sand on health. They are more worried about getting the numbers right for today’s political purposes rather than doing what is right for the future.
Tony Ryall has build a magnificent house of cards. It looks splendid right now, but the signs it could collapse at any time are there:
Maryan Street has already called Ryall out on his dodgy elective surgery numbers. Simple procedures get priority over more complex surgeries regardless of the outcome they achieve for the sole purpose of getting the numbers up.
At the Health Select Committee fincncial review of the Ministry of Health I pointed out that despite both Labour and National getting elective surgery waiting times down to now being on par with the USA and National diverting resources into getting more and more surgeries done, New Zealand ranks amongst the worst developed countries for post-operative complications such as infections and surgical items being left in the patient. So it’s all about quantity, not quality. Of course, those post-op complications are costly and soak up resources that could be used on better things.
Today there is an emerging story that the national screening programme which identifies hearing irregularities in newborns has been botched resulting in up to two-thousand babies being recalled to hospital to have their hearing re-checked. Why? Because some of the screeners only tested one ear and, bizarrely, some tested themselves rather than the baby. As Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew had to concede on Radio NZ this morning the only logical explanation for this was to save time, get more tests done and produce the numbers the Government is looking for.
Good on the Government for dumping this story after Parliament has risen so this little health scandal can be squashed before the next question time and good on Ryall for sending Goodhew to face the music. Perhaps it was to make up for his sexist graphic about doctors and nurses (which again contained dodgy numbers).
Tony Ryall the best politician of 2012? Yes. But he’s a crap Health Minister and we will all be paying for it in the future.