27 Mar 2012

Health advisory group under threat

2:13 pm on 27 March 2012

Health leaders say the possible axing of a key advisory group would be a backward step.

The Guidelines Group is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that brings medical experts together to assess international health research to provide recommendations on the best way to treat common disorders in New Zealand.

The group says it has already laid off up to 12 staff and faces an extremely uncertain future due to a cut in funding.

It has been told its baseline funding of $590,000 from the Health Ministry is to be cut and has called a special meeting on Monday to consider its future, which it says is bleak.

The Heart Foundation's medical director, Norman Sharpe, says it means the group may disband - and that would be bad for patients as well as their doctors.

"My fear is this will now revert to the special society approach, where a few individuals - mostly doctors - will hold sway with their strong opinions and biased interpretations of the evidence.

"That would be distinctly regressive, in my view, and very regrettable."

The ministry says the group's work is now done by other agencies, but is working with it to identify other opportunities.

Labour's health spokesperson Maryan Street says the strength of the group has been its independence and not-for-profit nature and the funding cut is a death knell.