28 Oct 2008

Health groups' reactions to Labour's health policy mixed

3:41 pm on 28 October 2008

Some health groups are questioning the priorities of Labour's trimmed back health policy, particularly for the aged, although others are welcoming initiatives in other areas.

There is no extra spending, with Labour saying initiatives will be paid for by changing the priorities for new health money in this year's Budget.

Greypower's health committee chair Les Howard says while the initiatives continue the policies of the past nine years, he is disappointed there is nothing new.


Labour wants to publicly release audit reports on rest homes, and build up the workforce by setting minimum staffing levels.

Medical Association chair Peter Foley says the aged care system is underfunded and no more reviews or audits are needed to prove it.

Dr Foley says rest homes and other facilities need urgent attention.

He also says cheaper GP visits for the elderly are only valuable if doctors are given the ability to order follow up screening and other tests.

Labour has postponed its plans to continue reducing the costs of doctors' visits for the young and the elderly until the economic situation improves.

Preventive focus welcomed

Gay Keating of the Public Health Association says she is delighted to see a greater priority placed on preventing people ending up in hospital.

The policy targets disease and disability caused by obesity, tobacco, alcohol and preventable cancers.

"Up until now the primary care health strategy has been mostly an idea. What we are starting to see now is an increased focus on what are the benefits that PHOs can bring in terms of prevention," Ms Keating says.

Help for intellectually disabled

Another initiative is free annual health checks for people with an intellectual disability.

Disabled Persons Assembly policy researcher Wendi Wicks says free checks were first recommended five years ago and they would be a positive step for people in community settings.

But Ms Wicks says the party still prioritises changing doctor's behaviour over providing disabled people with health information in a form they can use.

"There are also people with intellectual or cognitive impairments who might find plain language a whole lot easier for them to be able to be read what's being said, understand what choices are being offered to them and being able to offer informed consent as a result," she says.

GP boost

In parts of the South Island West Coast a lack of general practitioners in private practice has seen the local district health board begin directly employing its own GPs.

The Labour Party wants to promote this practice nationally.

Dr Foley says extending the West Coast model is inevitable and necessary, but very expensive because directly employing a GP costs a lot more than paying their salary.

"For the Government to try and roll out the model throughout the country, they have to acknowledge the tremendous capital investment in both building and plant that props up the general practice system in New Zealand, and they would be in for a shock if they tried to fund that.

"We would welcome them but I don't think this country can afford to spend more money on bricks and mortars."

Labour would boost medical school student numbers by 100 by 2011, as well as prioritise shorter waiting times for cardiac, cancer and orthopaedic treatment.

Maori health 'ignored'

Nurses Organisation's chief executive Geoff Annals says a major omission is Maori health.

"I was surprised there was nothing in there about building and developing the Maori and iwi workforce. At the time of the Budget there was money announced in that area, and it's certainly crying out for development."

Labour has restated its commitment to fast-track bowel cancer screening programmes, but there is still no start date.