The difference between life and death

Earlier this month the new $80 million Taranaki Base Hospital redevelopment was on display for everyone to see during an open day.

It was a model of efficiency and modern technology and those who visited would have been impressed with this vital new community asset. The Taranaki District Health Board invited the community to come along to see the new block, called Project Maunga, before staff and patients move in.

For years, the public and staff have had to endure aged facilities that have seen better days.

Nothing less than a major capital project would suffice. That was something the district health board was acutely aware of, and after some prolonged, intensive lobbying, Project Maunga became a reality.

A building, even with the latest technology and facilities, remains just that, however.

Ultimately the effectiveness of transforming it into a vital community asset lies with the staff. Despite having some recruitment difficulties in key areas, there has never been any suggestion that we are blessed with anything less than a dedicated, committed staff.

There has been the occasional grumble from a dissatisfied patient about what they see as a lack of care, but they have been as isolated as they are inevitable. The nursing staff at Taranaki Base Hospital have long been regarded as the true heroes of the organisation, and having new, sophisticated facilities can only make their jobs easier.

Health, along with education and housing, are vital roles of government and while political issues may come and go, few are as vital to an ageing population as healthcare.

In recent years, the Health Ministry has taken the innovative step of setting key criteria for the district health boards to achieve and publishing the results of their endeavours.

It is a transparent concept that allows communities throughout the country to see just how well their area is doing. After some consistent results, the Taranaki District Health Board came in for fulsome praise from Minister Tony Ryall after becoming the first in the country to achieve the goal of having all patients assessed or treated within five months by a consultant.

The May results meant Taranaki was the first of the 20 DHBs to meet the elective surgery health target to have referred patients within five months. The target was previously revised downwards from six months, making the achievement even more meritorious.

In simple terms it means that patients who qualify to see a specialist will do so within five months, and if they require surgery, that will be done within five months as well. It is reassuring for the region. The board will no doubt be aware it still has other areas it needs to concentrate on, but for now, it can pause and reflect on a job well done.

Because of its efficiency, it may be the difference between life and death for some, and there should be nothing more valued or precious in our priorities than that.

Taranaki Daily News