ASMS

We are the union for salaried doctors and dentists.

We promote, protect and support the interests of our members in all aspects of their working lives. We are working for an equitable, accessible public health care system that meets the needs of all New Zealanders.

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Making a health bucket wish list for Northland

23 September 2020 ASMS comment piece

Some of the things that make Northland one of the best and most beautiful parts of the country also make it one of the hardest to support in terms of health. Many of you live hours away from hospitals, while roads and other transport access are not easily navigated.

The Simpson Review of our health and disability system, which was released in June, tried to look at what things might look like in the next couple of decades. Its findings are very broad.  Its recommendations now sit with the Government and like so many of these things, the devil will be in the detail.

One of the key points it made is that our current health system is not very joined up. I don’t imagine there are many people who would disagree with that.

But the real question for most of us will be, what will my access to the health system look like?  How might it change? Will my whānau be better off when it comes to healthcare over the next few years?

We think there are several things that could be picked up really quickly which would make a positive and visible difference in your region. We would probably go a wee bit further than the Simpson Review. Here is our list:

  • Visible, accurate, information about health delays, waiting times, and the current state of access to specialist care in your region. Specialist shortages in some of your hospital services are at critical levels. As an example, the last time I asked, Sleep Clinic wait times in Northland were upwards of three years.
  • free access to GPs and primary care, including dentists, physiotherapists, and health navigators with links to DHB, MSD, housing, and education. These would be established as local hubs, with strong iwi and community links and, ideally, with an on-site pharmacy and local drop-in and support centre.
  • DHB-employed GPs. This means you won’t be reliant on a profit-making business model to ensure there is a GP practice somewhere in your neighbourhood.
  • Health buses equipped and staffed so that, sometimes, hospital-based, specialist services will come to you. They would also work alongside local primary care providers to improve community-based care for patients and families.

That’s not the whole list, but I reckon it’s a solid start. Alongside all these, we need a better conversation about what our public investment in the health system really means. Having timely access to health care, whether that be GP, dental, or specialist care, costs us all. That’s why we pay our taxes. But it seems to me that it has been a while since we had an in-depth conversation about what we expect back from our investment.

Is it ok that there is no GP in your neighbourhood? Are you comfortable that some sub-specialist care is available in Auckland, and not further north?  We are a nation of just over five million people. It might be reasonable to expect that transplant surgeries only happen in major centres with tertiary hospitals, but is it acceptable to have a three year wait for a Sleep Clinic assessment in Whangarei?

What else do we expect our health taxes to provide? We know the government’s shopping list is even longer than ours, and there is only ever a certain amount of money in the health bucket. But if we are clear about what we expect, what constitutes our bottom line for public health care, maybe it’s time for a bigger bucket.

– ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton

As published in the Northern Advocate 19 September 2020