26 May 2018

Middlemore letter to minister: 'Pulls no punches'

6:24 pm on 26 May 2018

A letter sent to the Health Minister from clinicians at Middlemore Hospital must not be ignored, the senior doctors' union says.

Middlemore Hospital

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The letter on behalf of 13 department heads at the South Auckland hospital said cancer patients were facing delays in treatment because of a crisis in staffing.

Written by Director of Medicine Dr Carl Eagleton, it said all departments had concerns and faced challenges in trying to provide high-quality health care.

The letter was released under the Official Information Act to the New Zealand Herald.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said the letter came from people with the most expertise on the frontline.

"It is an impossible letter for any responsible district health board or any responsible minister of health to disregard and it is the kind of letter a responsible Minister of Health would act upon."

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Executive Director Ian Powell.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Executive Director Ian Powell. Photo: Supplied

Mr Powell said if a similar letter was written from any other DHB, the clinical assessment would be pretty much the same.

"Middlemore Hospital is in a state of crisis but it is not the only public hospital that is under considerable pressure."

Mr Powell was aware that in the past there had been attempts to stifle specialists from speaking out: "It is a very brave thing to do but it is also a very responsible thing to do."

He hoped Health Minister David Clark would recognise that although it was not a situation of his creation, but one inherited, that he was responsible for resolving it.

Mr Powell said the situation was the result of eight years of compounding under-funding of public hospitals.

"We have a 50 percent burnout rate of hospital specialists which is totally unacceptable."

Mr Powell said he would welcome it if clinicians at other DHBs wrote of their concerns directly to the minister.

"I would hope that this letter is sufficient anyway because it pulls no punches and is very explicit."

Acting Health Minister Jenny Salesa said the government was committed to a strong public health service.

"There is no question that hospital services around the country have been under pressure in recent years due to underfunding by the previous government," she said.

This year's Budget included a boost of $549 million in operational funding for DHBs, she said, including an extra $66.2 million for Counties Manukau DHB.

"This is the largest DHB funding increase in the last decade but even that will not be enough to make up for nine years of underfunding. Rebuilding our health system will take time and sustained investment," she said.

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