11 Nov 2013

British health chief shocked to find rheumatic fever in NZ

11:27 am on 11 November 2013

The departing head of the Health Ministry says he was a little shocked, arriving from Britain to take up the job, to find rheumatic fever in New Zealand.

Kevin Woods: leaving after three years in the job.

Kevin Woods: leaving after three years in the job. Photo: RNZ

Kevin Woods stepped down as director-general of health, and chief executive of the ministry, on Friday after three years in the job and is returning to Scotland for family reasons.

In his only departure interview, he told Radio New Zealand he had not encountered rheumatic fever in his former work in Britain but "one of the very encouraging things that has happened has been a very determined push on this".

Dr Woods says a whole-of-government approach, incorporating throat-swabbing clinics in schools and measures to improve housing, appear to be proving effective, with a slight drop in hospitalisations from acute rheumatic fever.

He says non-communicable diseases, such as type two diabetes, obesity and dementia, are among the major health problems confronting New Zealand.

Dr Woods had been in the job just five weeks when the Christchurch earthquake hit on 22 February 22 2011. He says he visited the city shortly afterwards and the response of health workers and health services will remain in his memory. "I think it showed health and public services at their very best," he says.