The hospital doctors' "cash for ash" perk is shameful.
The charge is so notional that it varies from $13 to $90 for the few minutes it takes a doctor to fill out a form certifying a body is fit for cremation. By shabby tradition some of the money has gone into junior doctors' social club events, parties, Sky TV in doctors' lounges, or just been pocketed by the medic concerned.
And all of this has been sanctioned by the district health boards.
On what grounds? It's a special charge, spuriously levied for something that is plainly part of a doctor's normal duties, then generally spent indulgently. It is nothing more than hitting up freshly grieving families for no better reason than the sad fact they've been able to get away with it. The level of respect afforded those families is reflected in the jaunty "ash cash" name.
Look at the reaction now that reporters have winkled it out. An advisory message has gone out from the Resident Doctors' Association, effectively breaking the sorrowful news that this little perk is coming to an end, not because of any change of heart about this heartless practice, but because the media was about to haul it into the public arena and spoil everybody's fun.
Most boards throughout the country fessed up about the charge, humiliating though most must have found it.
The Nelson-Marlborough DHB allowed doctors to charge $90; it kept $60 of that and let the junior doctors keep the rest for their annual variety show for charity. By contrast, the $70 charged by MidCentral DHB doctors went to social events.
Some northern boards can take a little credit for having earlier discontinued the practice before it stood exposed. The Waikato board said it did so because to continue it "became inappropriate".
No, it didn't. It was always inappropriate.
Now this little lark is at last going to wither in the sunlight, doctors with an eye for their social kitty might have to look elsewhere to find ways to conjure up a special charge for plain-enough duties. They're smart people, so they'll doubtless come up with something.
Perhaps people showing up at accident and emergency departments for stitches might encounter a "cash for gash" no-dough, no-sew rule. At the sexual health clinics, will there perhaps be a "coins for loins" deal?
If such musing is bad taste, it is no less objectionable than the shabby reality with which the public has been presented.