Prime Minister 'misled public over health cuts'

A leading injury rehabilitation specialist has lashed out at comments made by Prime Minister John Key, saying he has misled the public over cuts made to the health system.

Rehabilitation medicine consultant physician Jurriaan de Groot said he was left outraged at a statement made by Mr Key in a televised leaders debate that only administrative jobs had been cut from the public health service.

Mr Key made the comment after Labour leader Phil Goff pointed out that at the last election National promised to cap numbers in the public service – not cut them.

In response, Mr Key said: "We've cut administration in the public service. We have hired more doctors and nurses and midwives, and guess what? Cancer waiting times, times for treatment are down to four weeks."

Dr de Groot said the slashing of MidCentral District Health Board's rehabilitative Star Unit from 12 beds to eight, proved Mr Key was "wrong at best, deliberately misleading at worst". "It certainly wasn't just administrative services that were cut from there, the hospital lost a valuable resource expertise and they'll never get it back."

Dr de Groot ran the MidCentral rehab service for people under 65 for 16 years, but he said he left to set up his own practice early this year after cuts made to the service rendered his role impracticable.

Midway through last year, MidCentral District Health Board made the decision to cut Palmerston North Hospital's under-65s rehabilitation unit from a 12-bed to an eight-bed unit – one of many cuts to rehabilitation services throughout the region after being told by the Health Ministry to cut $10 million of spending from its budget.

MidCentral Health had been subsidising the cost of providing more beds than it was contracted to do, and was only being paid $432 from the ministry a day, compared with $678 paid to other rehabilitation services.

"It was like them removing the string and the brass section from an orchestra and then saying `make do with that' – I was effectively waving my wand to an empty room – so I think for John Key to stand there and say that is terrible."

Dr de Groot made his comments as the owner and lead consultant of Central Rehabilitation Medicine Limited, however, he is also the New Zealand Branch chairman for the rehabilitation medicine faculty of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Palmerston North MP and Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said it was typical of National's inability to see the big picture. "To me, it's a direct consequence of National's very narrow health policy. When the DHB was told `you've got to find $10 million worth of cuts' they had no option but to take money out of important services and pump it into the target areas, all so they can look good on the league tables."

Mr Key was unavailable to comment last night, however Health Minister Tony Ryall disputed the claims. "There have been no cuts to MidCentral DHB's budget. We have given them more money – up $15 million this year alone."

Manawatu Standard