Medical specialists union blast health minister

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 15:43 26/07/2014

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The union for medical specialists has used a speech to a group of dentists to launch an attack on Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Speaking at a conference in Taupo, Association for Salaried Medical Specialists director Ian Powell said Ryall's second term was a lesson in what not to do for the incoming Health Minister.

Ryall has announced his retirement from politics at the election. He has held a number of ministerial portfolios, but has been Health Minister for the past two terms. 

Powell described Ryall's tenure has a "tale of two ministers". 

"His beginning was promising, including the excellent "In Good Hands" policy advice on distributive clinical leadership, and some pragmatic restructuring of Ministry of Health functions."

But Powell said it ended with a "legacy of neglect" for workforce needs. intense financial pressures on DHBs and "increasingly pervasive micro-management".

At the budget, the Government boosted public health funding to a record $15.6 billion. Critics however have said the funding was not enough. 

Powell put the shortfall at an estimated $232 million behind what was needed to cover announced new services, increased costs, population growth and the effects of an aging population. 

"DHBs meanwhile are underfunded by an estimated $94 million just to cover increased costs and demographic changes," he said.

"When the costs of new services they are expected to provide are taken into account, the shortfall is likely to be well over $100 million."

In May, Ryall announced an extra $1.8 billion for health over four years for new initiatives and to meet cost pressures and population growth. 

That was made up of $1.39 billion of new money and $412 million of savings.

"District health boards will have about $320 million available next year for extra services and to help meet cost pressures and population changes," he said.

In the house this week, minister Michael Woodhouse further defended the Government's resourcing for the health sector.

"The best example for this is free doctors visits and prescriptions for under 13-year-olds, from July next year, with 400,000 children benefiting.

"The member will be interested to hear, that we've been able to afford this because we've turned around Labour's DHB deficit of $200 million, to just $20 million."

Answering questions on Ryall's behalf, Woodhouse said  DHBs had been "innovative in ensuring they can produce much more output for a moderate increase in budget". 

"And they have been spectacularly successful in doing so."

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But Powell said DHBs were under increasing pressure to do more with relatively less, which wasn't a good thing. He said it led to an entrenched shortages of specialists.

Just last month, specialists were predicting a "bowel cancer crisis", as  Ministry of Health projected it could recruit a little more than 40 staff over the next decade.

The Government has said a national bowel-screening programme is inevitable, but Ryall has said a national rollout could not be rushed before sustainable staffing solutions had been put in place.

Ryall has been approached for further comment.

- Stuff

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