Greens push but Government tardy addressing synthetic drug toll

Deaths from synthetics is the tip of a growing drug toll iceberg. Greens, Chlöe Swarbrick in particular, keep pushing for action but the Government seems slow to do anything about it.

Last week (ODT) About 50 deaths linked to synthetics being investigated

A coroner has ruled that using synthetic drugs led to the deaths of two men – and is investigating whether the deadly substance played a part in up to 50 other fatal incidents.

Findings were released today into the deaths of Taupo man Isaiah Terry McLaughlin and Shannon James Thomas Coleman-Fallen from Rotorua.

Both deaths were directly linked to synthetic drugs.

There are currently about 50 deaths nationally which the coroner’s officer says “provisionally appear to be attributable to synthetic cannabis toxicity”.

Today (Newsroom): Further deaths from synthetics

The number of deaths believed to be caused by synthetics has risen to as many as 50, with the coroner releasing detailed findings into two more deaths caused by the drugs – and repeating a call for a change in approach to users and easier access to addiction treatment.

Health Minister David Clark is currently working on a strategy to combat the problem, but the National Party is accusing the Government of dragging its feet while New Zealanders die.

Meanwhile, the Green Party is continuing to advocate for regulation rather than prohibition, as the drug argument rages on.

Swarbrick in Parliament:

Newsroom:

Health Minister David Clark said any death as a result of drug use was a tragedy.

“The Government is taking the synthetic drugs issue very seriously – these drugs are killing people.”

They were killing people when Clark became Minister of Health a year ago.

Health, Police, Customs and Corrections were working together on the issue, while Government – led by Clark – looked at the question of reclassification, Clark said.

A decision from Cabinet is expected in the coming weeks, he said.

‘In the coming weeks’ will be heading into the Christmas shutdown of Parliament.

“It’s important to acknowledge that there is no silver bullet. We need to treat drugs, including synthetics, as a health issue.

“Our focus is harm reduction and reducing the supply of synthetics, rather than simply criminalising people using these drugs.”

But how? Last month: Greens say Health Minister’s plan to reclassify common synthetic drugs a ‘costly war, destined to fail’

The Government are working towards labelling common types of synthetic cannabis as a Class A drug “as soon as possible”, however the Green Party are warning against a “costly war on synthetic drugs that is destined to fail”.

“People who make synthetics are constantly changing the compounds and chemicals, it’s impossible to know what’s in these drugs,” Green Party drug law reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said.

“If our plan is to classify every synthetic product then we’ll be playing catch up every time manufacturers change the chemicals.”

“We can choose to carry on with a failed war on drugs, or take a more sensible route and look at the causes and health impacts of addiction and treat those instead.”

It comes after Health Minister David Clark said making common types of synthetic drugs Class A “enables police to have greater search and seizure powers”.

“We’re aiming to do this as soon as possible.”

Past Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne recognised the futility of trying to classify and control synthetic drugs years ago, and came up with a solution that was agreed to by Parliament, but National chickened out in reaction to media sensationalising of short term problems.

Newsroom:

Earlier this week, the Drug Foundation released an economic impact report, which found reforming the country’s “punitive” drug laws – including the decriminalisation of all drugs and introduction of a legal market for cannabis – would benefit the country by at least $450 million a year.

The report, produced by economist Shamubeel Eaqub says there would be a net social benefit of at least $225m from investing an extra $150m in addiction treatment, drug education, and harm reduction interventions.

It estimates there would be a net social benefit of $34m to $83m from replacing the Misuse of Drugs Act, passed in 1975, with a new law based on a health-based approach to the issue.

Creating a legal, regulated market for the purchase of cannabis would bring $185m to $240m in new tax revenue while also saving the justice sector $6m to $13m.

The Health Ministry is a huge task for any minister, and Clark has struggled to deal with everything. In a change from the last Government the responsibility for the problems with drugs use and abuse was given to the Minister. Under the National government an Associate Minister dealt with drug issues.

Clark doesn’t seem to be giving the problems with synthetic drugs the urgency required (that was obvious a year ago). And he seems quite cautious if not conservative when it comes to drug laws.  A radical rethink is urgently required.

Jacinda Ardern should seriously consider a reshuffle of ministerial responsibilities.

If she really wants to be a progressive Prime Minister she should consider appointing Swarbrick as an Associate health Minister (outside Cabinet) so she can focus on the urgent overhaul needed of drug laws and treating it properly as a health issue that requires urgent attention.

 

 

Clark, Ardern shamefully lame not urgently addressing drug problems

Urgent action is required to address drug problems, like the prevalence of P (methamphetamine) and the growing problems with and deaths from synthetic drugs (not cannabis as some keep describing it as).

Instead the Minister of Health, David Clark, and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, are shamefully lame.

RNZ:  Synthetic drug compounds may be reclassified as Class A

Two of the most commonly used synthetic drugs could be reclassified as Class A, bringing them in line with heroin and cocaine.

Health Minister David Clark said the aim was to give the police greater powers to stop makers and sellers of the drug.

He said he would be asking his Cabinet colleagues to support reclassification of two compounds known as AMB-Fubinaca and 5F-ABD.

bad batch of synthetic drugs in Christchurch is suspected to be behind one death. The batch has also put 19 people in hospital over the last two weeks.

“Any death as a result of drug use is a tragedy, and my sympathies go to friends and family,” Dr Clark said.

The government was taking the synthetic drug problem seriously and was talking to service providers and drug users to identify areas of need, he said.

Urgent and drastic action is required, like right now, and Clark is talking to people and might take a tweak to Cabinet some time in the future. I don’t have a problem with enabling tougher sentences for pushing some drugs, but that is unlikely to dent the ongoing catastrophe that requires urgency.

A decision on reclassification under the Misuse of Drugs Act would be made in coming weeks.

“It’s important to acknowledge that reclassification is not a silver bullet. We need to treat drug abuse, including synthetic cannabis, as a health issue,” Dr Clark said.

It’s not cannabis. And this is hardly going to make a difference.

Drug laws need a complete overhaul, not just a tweak, says The Drug Foundation.

It said drug suppliers and users needed to be treated differently under the law, as suggested by the Law Commission in 2011.

This would stop addicts being penalised for what should be health issue, Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.

“Unless the government reforms that law then its good intentions of going after the big guys doesn’t stop police from then also choosing to criminalise people who are using these drugs.”

Funding for drug addiction services also needed to double, he said.

Drug rehabilitation service provider What Ever It Takes Trust general manager Caroline Lampp said a reclassification of two synthetic drugs would help stop supply, but more help for addicts was crucial.

“There a big gap here in Hawke’s Bay and in other places around the before and after support,” she said.

Dr Clark agreed addiction services are underfunded, but said the government was waiting for the final report from the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry before increasing any funding.

Waiting. Waiting! While lives continue to be ruined, and people keep dying.

Last week in New York Ardern notably did not join Donald Trump’s continuation of the failed ‘war on drugs’.

Last night  saw Ardern spout some absolutely vague waffle on the drug problem last night on TV and now I can’t find it, such is it’s lack of importance in the news.

TVNZ has this online: Potent new batch of synthetic drugs turning users violent in Christchurch – ‘Every person is quite unpredictable’

Two more people have died from suspected synthetic drug overdoses in Christchurch in the last fortnight as the city grapples with a dangerous batch of the drugs.

Those on the front line say patients on synthetic cannabis are becoming more aggressive and turning on the people trying to help them.

St John’s Craig Downing told 1 NEWS about one of these violent incidents.

“Last Saturday night we were called to a case that the ambulance staff responded to.

“They attended to a person and whilst in the back of the ambulance that person, without provocation or warning, violently attacked one of my staff,” Mr Downing said.

“I’m extremely worried because we don’t know from one patient to the next what’s in this substance and as such every person is quite unpredictable.”

Others dealing with Christchurch’s less fortunate have also reported the new strain of synthetic cannabis causing issues.

“The latest batches are significantly more powerful than they’ve ever been, in fact up to 400 times the strength of THC which is really significant.

“From an addictive perspective one hit can get someone hooked on it,” Christchurch City Mission’s Matthew Mark says.

A paper is set to go to cabinet in the next few weeks with a plan on how to tackle the issue, including a possible law change.

‘Next few weeks’, ‘possible law change’. Hopeless.

Ardern appears in video of that item alongside Minister of Police Stuart Nash waffling a bit about what they might do.

I think that was the news item I heard Ardern speaking but it seems to have been expunged.

Clark, Ardern and the Government have been shamefully lame in their dealing with urgent drug abuse problems.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick is putting them to shame (see next post) but is not making much impression on Ardern or her Government.

 

 

Disgraceful lack of action from David Clark and Labour on drug crisis

The drug abuse crisis continues to hit the headlines,with ongoing and growing problems, more and more deaths, and the Labour-led Government continues to do bugger all if that.

The wellbeing and lives of many people are at risk, this should be getting urgent attention, but the Labour-led government looks as bad as National was in being to gutless to address the problems.

Yesterday from Stuff:  Warning issued over synthetic cannabis use after eight people hospitalised

At least three people have been admitted to intensive care and others treated within 24 hours in Christchurch after using synthetic cannabis.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

Emergency medicine specialist Paul Gee said there had been a noticeable increase in people needing emergency help due to the side effects of synthetic cannabis use.

Eight people have been treated in Christchurch over the last 24 hours, with three having to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Also Synthetic cannabis users gambling with their lives after a ‘bad batch’

Synthetic cannabis users are gambling with their lives, a health official warns following a spate of hospitalisations in Christchurch.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning on Thursday evening about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

As a Minister in the National-led Government Peter Dunne copped a lot of flak for dysfunctional drug laws and growing drug abuse problems, especially the growing use of new drugs often inaccurately referred to as synthetic cannabis.

It suited National to allow the blame to fall on Dunne while they did virtually nothing to deal with obvious drug law problems and growing use of dangerous drugs. And there has been many ignorant attacks on Dunne.

On 1 News yesterday Dunne suggested a rethink on how we deal with natural cannabis: Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

“It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances,” he said. “But…some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they’ll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

“While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple.”

“I don’t think we ever anticipated we’d get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm,” NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

So what is the current Government doing about it? very little as far as I’m aware. Health Minister David Clark seems as reluctant as National was to address the problem, and most of the Labour-led Government seem to be gutless – the exception is Green MP Chloe Swarbrick who is working hard to try to progress long overdue drug law reforms.

The only official press release from David Clark since becoming Minister was this last December: Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering. Labour have been very disappointing in their handling even of medicinal cannabis.

Nothing from Clark mentioning ‘synthetic’. What the hell is he doing apart from nothing?

NZ Herald (31 July 2018): Health Minister David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

We have multiple drug crises, with both synthetics and P (methamphetamine). Natural cannabis is far less dangerous, but it is getting more expensive and harder to obtain because drug pushers make more money out of getting people addicted to P and synthetic drugs. They have no trouble finding more victims to replace those who die.

National’s lack of action on drug abuse and drug laws was extremely disappointing.

Clark and Labour are acting just as poorly. This is disgraceful.

David Clark accused of cronyism after appointing another ex-Labour MP

Minister of Health David Clark has been accused of cronyism after he appointed former Labour MP Steve Maharey as new chair of Pharmac, against the advice of officials, and without following State Services Guidelines in considering a pool of applicants.

Clark’s history shows he has been appointed to a number of positions as he has worked his way into politics and up the ladder, and once he became a Minister (in Cabinet) he has made more than one appointment that involves political connections.

Clark is an ordained Presbyterian minister and practiced as one from 1997 to 2000 (he is still a celebrant and performed a civil union for Grant Robertson and his partner in January 2009).

He started his political involvement while working as an analyst for Treasury from 2003 to 2006, and was also appointed to a number of community positions:

  • Campaign hoardings assistance, Wellington 2005
  • Advisor to Hon David Parker 2006 – 2007
  • Dunedin North Campaign Committee member and activist 2008
  • Head of College, Selwyn College, University of Otago 2008 – 2011
  • Member, Finance and Audit Committee Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Trustee, Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Leith Branch Membership Secretary 2009 – 2011
  • Member, Otago Forward economic development forum 2009 – 2011
  • Dunedin North LEC Deputy Chair 2009 – 2010
  • Dunedin North LEC Chair 2010
  • Member, University of Otago Vice-Chancellor’s Alcohol Advisory Task Force 2010 – 2011
  • Deputy Chair, Otago Community Trust 2011 – 2012
  • Member of Parliament for Dunedin North 2011 – current

After working his way up the Dunedin North Labour Party administration he was selected to replace the retiring Pete Hodgson and won the safe-ish electorate in 2011.

He was appointed Minister of Health when Labour took over Government in October 2017. he made a controversial appointment soon after:

ODT (8 December 2017): Hospital rebuild chairman sacked; Hodgson given job

Health Minister David Clark has sacked the Dunedin Hospital rebuild chairman and appointed former Labour cabinet minister Pete Hodgson to lead the project.

When contacted, Hawke’s Bay consultant Andrew Blair said his role as Southern Partnership Group chairman was “terminated” this week. Dr Clark told the Otago Daily Times the rebuild needed to be led by a local person.

Mr Hodgson, Dr Clark’s predecessor in Dunedin North, served as MP from 1990 to 2011, and held numerous ministerial portfolios in the fifth Labour government.

“As a former minister of health, he understands the complexity of the issues involved,” Dr Clark said.

“He is indisputably a local champion, and  . . . is well connected into health.

Dr Clark’s other move is appointing University of Otago chief operating officer Stephen Willis to the group now led by Mr Hodgson.

So Clark’s university and political connections coming into play there. This left Clark open to criticism, which he got – War of words over Dunedin Hospital rebuild

Former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the Government has made the “wrong move for progressing the rebuild” of Dunedin Hospital.

“The announcement of the ultimate Dunedin Labour Party political insider and former Health Minister Pete Hodgson as chair of the Southern Partnership Group is exactly the wrong move for progressing the rebuild.”

Hodgson is probably a good person for the job, but there is a risk of it being seen as cronyism.

Now this week (Newsroom) Clark accused of cronyism over Pharmac appointment:

Steve Maharey, former Labour MP and ex-Education Minister was appointed Pharmac chair on August 1 to little fanfare.

But questions are now being raised about his appointment after it emerged Health Minister David Clark went against the advice of officials in appointing Maharey.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Health advised reappointing existing chair Stuart McLauchlan for a fourth term.

A report from 3 May 2018 advised Clark, “the Ministry considers sound reasons exist that support the reappointment of Mr McLauchlan”.

“Pharmac is taking on new roles that will have a significant impact on the health sector… They will require Pharmac to develop new capabilities to carry out these new roles,” the briefing said.

It went on to say: “Mr McLauchlan has performed well as the chair and it is advisable to provide for continuity during this period of expansion of Pharmac’s role. This is particularly so, given that a new chief executive has recently been appointed”.

It went on to recommend McLauchlan be reappointed for a further term of three years or, if Clark wished to change the chair, to reappoint him for just one year, while a replacement chair was sourced.

But Clark overrode that advice.

Instead, he informed McLauchlan that he would not be reappointed, and elevated Maharey to the board.

Opposition health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the move was “appalling,” and raised questions about the process involved.

While Clark had the right to appoint Maharey, he went against guidelines from the State Services Commission, which advises a position description be filled out and a wide-pool of applicants be sought before appointing board members.

A workflow for appointment processes from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet shows that the general procedure is to identify required skills and “call for nominations”.

Instead, a statement from Clark said the position “was not publicly advertised, which is within the Board Appointments and Induction Guidelines from the State Services Commission”.

Clark told Newsroom the appointment “followed the standard process for Board chairs and was signed off by the Cabinet”.

But Woodhouse said the process raised issues of cronyism.

“David Clark’s appalling move to remove the previous chair and appoint a former Labour MP to the role, all with no position description, no application process, interview, or any other input into the decision is cronyism at its worst,” Woodhouse said.

Making uncontested appointments, especially when close political affiliations are involved, are risky.

Maharey may chair Pharmac competently and without controversy, but questions could be asked about his credentials. He has been Vice-Chancellor of Massey University since he left Parliament.

He doesn’t seem to have done health as an MP. His responsibilities:

  • 1990-1994 spokesperson of broadcasting and education
  • 1994-1997 spokesperson for labour
  • 1996-1999 spokesperson on social welfare, employment, and tertiary education
  • 1999-2007 he ha\d various portfolios:
    Minister of Social Services and Employment
    Associate Minister of Education holding special responsibility for tertiary education
    Minister of Broadcasting
    Minister for Education
    Minister for Research, Science and Technology
    Minister for Crown Research Institutes
    Minister for Youth Affairs

Nothing health related – but Clark didn’t have much of a background in health either.

If there are no controversies over Pharmac (or the Dunedin Hospital rebuild) this may not be an issue for Clark, but he should take care avoiding too many accusations of cronyism.


UPDATE: more appointments with political connections from Clark – More DHB chair turnover but Health Minister says it’s not political

On Sunday David Clark announced three new board chairs for Auckland DHBs – Pat Snedden will lead Auckland DHB from June 1, Judy McGregor at Waitemata DHB from June 10 and Vui Mark Gosche at Counties-Manukau DHB from Thursday.

At least two of the appointments appear to be politically motivated with Gosche coming into the role having previously been a Minister under the former Labour-led Government.

Gosche was a Labour MP from 1996-2008.

McGregor served as the first Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission between 2003 and 2013 (two terms), appointed by Minister Margaret Wilson and replaced in the role by politician Jackie Blue (a National political appointment).

Pat Snedden was previously also a Labour appointee who says he was politically pushed by National’s Health Minister in 2010 – see Minister pushes health chief out

Cannabis bill labouring under legislative laziness

Labour has made a mess (so far) of their attempt to appease people wanting cannabis for medicinal purposes.

John Roughan describes this as a symptom of legislative laziness in Two big concerns for returning PM Jacinda Ardern:

If maternity leave has given the Prime Minister any time to reflect on the team’s performance in her absence she might have returned with two big concerns. One is obviously the decline in business confidence, the other may not so obvious.

It is legislative laziness that ignores practical flaws in the policy behind it.

It was a weakness of the previous Labour Government and it has now appeared in this one, on the subject of legalising cannabis for medicinal use.

I don’t know whether Minister of Health David Clark has been lazy, but on this he has certainly been lax.

Labour mainly wants to be seen as compassionate to the terminally ill. Who doesn’t? But good government requires more than good intentions. The hard part is working out the practicalities of putting good intentions into effect.

The new Government put a bill before Parliament that would have allowed terminally ill people to possess and use a drug that would remain illegal for anybody else. Quite how the drug would be cultivated, manufactured and supplied only to the terminally ill were details that did not unduly concern Labour MPs on the select committee that would have let the bill proceed if Labour and the Greens had a majority.

Labour MPs on the medicinal cannabis select committee have published their view of the issues the committee considered and it shows Labour’s lack of intellectual rigour on subjects such as this. The word “compassion” features a lot.

Repeating ‘compassion’ ad nauseum does not make it a compassionate solution.

Labour simply proposed to provide a legal defence for people charged with possession if they were “terminally ill”. It would have been a defence lawyers’ picnic, probably invoked for growers and dealers too. Labour MPs did not sound much interested in the form of the products for medicinal use or their quality.

Their report declared, “The overall standard of cannabis products is not expected to match that of pharmaceutical grade products, e.g. manufacturers will not be required to provide clinical trial data. The setting of quality standards will be led by the Ministry of Health and will be informed by approaches taken in other jurisdictions, expert technical advice and stakeholders.” In short, “Whatever”.

So what was its purpose, other than to give Labour’s voters the impression the Government was doing something on this subject while, in fact, the difficult details it was ducking would very likely prove insurmountable.

Labour ministers and legislation advisers seemed unprepared for getting into Government, and they haven’t performed well since they took over last November.

Meanwhile, on medicinal cannabis it has been overtaken by the National MP Shane Reti who has drafted a bill resolving the practical details and has convinced his caucus to support it.

Reti’s bill would allow cannabis products currently available only on prescription to be available from pharmacies on presentation of a medical cannabis card issued by the patient’s doctor or nurse practitioner. A licence would be needed to cultivate or manufacture the products, which would not include cannabis in loose-leaf form.

Unlike Labour, Reti has done some hard work. He visited the US and researched what has worked with cannabis law reform.

Then he put together a bill that isn’t perfect – he had to compromise to get approval from the conservative National caucus – but it looks far better than Labour’s deficient attempt.

Labour’s Louisa Wall has been working on trying to make things happen, but she has never seemed to have much clout in Labour. She became a list MP in 2008 and has been an electorate MP (Manurewa) since 2011, but she is outside Cabinet well down the Labour ranks at 24. She is limited with Clark inn charge of health.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick has been working hard with all parties to try to get agreement on a sensible way forward.

It’s a shame that Labour’s legislative laziness, and their unwillingness to work things out with other parties, has made what should have been a straightforward compassionate consensus so hard to achieve.

Quiet performers and hard workers Swarbrick and Reti may be the key to getting something worthwhile into law,

 

Cannabis referendum could be binding

A cannabis referendum (on recreational use) is part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Greens and Labour, and has been promised before or at the 2020 election. The Government is considering making it a binding referendum.

RNZ:  Cannabis referendum may be binding

The Justice Minister Andrew Little says the government is considering what kind of referendum will be held.

“One of the decisions that the Government is going to make is whether it will be a binding referendum, meaning that once the decision is made then the Government will follow through on it. In order for a binding referendum to take place there has to be a reasonable degree of specificity and certainty about what would follow a ‘yes’ vote.”

Winston Peters says he would support the result of a referendum.

“Well look we don’t believe in fake democracy. A referendum is a form of democracy.

“If the question’s going to the people, the people’s answer will be paramount, yes.”

Simon Bridges says that National would follow the wishes of a public referendum: National would legalise cannabis if public voted in favour – Bridges

If the public votes in favour of legalising cannabis in a referendum, a National-led government would change the law accordingly, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Mr Bridges said National would enact a law change if that was what New Zealanders wanted.

“Oh I think we’ve got to, I mean we’ve got to go with what the people want and what a referendum tells us.

“We’ve got a bit of water to go under the bridge, we’ve got to see the question, we’re going to have an informed debate I hope on the issues, but absolutely on principle we support referendums and their outcomes.”

Not as much certainty from Labour though.

When asked before she went on maternity leave, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not yet commit to whether Labour would legalise marijuana if a referendum favoured the change.

That’s disappointing from Ardern.

Guarded support but vagueness from the Minister of Health: David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

Clark seems to have been one of the weakest links in the medicinal cannabis bill before Parliament at the moment, so it’s hard to know how he would deal with this.

Hopefully Parliament will make it a ‘conscience vote’ (personal vote) for MPs when it comes to legislation, and hopefully the will of the people weights heavily on the consciences of MPs.

If ever there was an issue that could do with some real leadership in parliament, this is it.

Perhaps Ardern has had a chance to see this while on her break from Parliament, and she picks up and runs with proper drug law reform rather than the weak tinkering and dithering we have seen so far.

Police disappointed in scrapping of mental health pilot scheme

National’s spokesperson on the police, Chris Bishop, has uncovered the scrapping of a pilot project that would have added mental health expertise to front line policing.

The Government’s decision to axe a universally-supported pilot to improve the response to 111 mental health calls is nothing short of disgraceful, especially after Labour pledged to make mental health a priority, National’s Police spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“It has been revealed that Labour has scrapped a pilot in which a mental health nurse would attend mental health incidents alongside police and paramedics to ensure that people in distress receive timely responses that are tailored to their needs.

“Police spend around 280 hours a day responding to mental health calls. They do a good job, but are not mental health professionals so having a mental health nurse deployed to incidents with police would make a real difference.

“The increasing demand on police to respond to mental health crises is set to continue. That’s why the National Government set aside $8 million for the pilot as part of our $100 million mental health package.

“Police Minister Stuart Nash confirmed in answers to written questions the day of the Police Estimates hearing that the pilot would be canned, yet Police Commissioner Mike Bush told the hearing that police were very hopeful it would continue – in front of Mr Nash.

“Mr Nash has admitted that police are dealing with more and more mental health cases. The pilot would have eased pressure on police and improved the quality of the response for those experiencing mental distress.

RNZ: Police disappointed after mental health pilot dropped

Police officers are upset a proposal to improve 111 callouts has been dumped and mental health advocates hope it may yet be salvaged.

The former National government last year announced an $8 million pilot scheme where mental health workers would attend crisis calls along with police and ambulance staff.

The trial was due to start in September, but police headquarters said the new government had “re-allocated” the funding and so the pilot had been dropped.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the decision was “disappointing” and officers needed practical support “sooner rather than later”.

“It’s all good to have inquiries and to have think-tanks, but people need help now. They’re crying out for it.”

Front-line officers were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls relating to mental health, he said.

“Police aren’t the best equipped to do this. It needs to be people in mental health services who look after them. It’s a medical issue, not a policing issue.”

Health Minister fobbed off queries.

Health Minister David Clark turned down an interview request, but in a statement said the proposal “was never fully developed” and it appeared National had cobbled it together in a hurry.

He expected the government’s mental health inquiry, announced in January, would include advice on how to improve the emergency response, he said.

How long will that take? What if that inquiry recommends the pilot project or something similar? Labour said there was a mental health crisis, but they are not acting like it is a pressing problem now.

The Mental Health Foundation…

…had been supportive of the scheme and its chief executive Shaun Robinson said it was a shame to see it fall by the wayside.

“The police have unfortunately been left to be the mental health service of last resort.”

Mr Robinson said he would be keeping a close eye on the inquiry’s findings and was hopeful it would come up with a similar or even better idea.

“We would really hope to see that there’s something significant in the crisis response area,” he said.

“It may be a short-term loss for a longer-term gain.”

Fiona Howard, from Mental Health Advocacy and Peer Support in Christchurch…

…also hoped the inquiry would report back with a similar project.

She said she empathised with police frustration, but understood the government’s approach to first assess the entire mental health system.

“What I hope is that we can sort of pause – even though I know it’s hard to wait – to make sure that we get all the results from that inquiry in to make sure all parts of our system that are under stress get the resourcing and new initiatives they need.”

Reporting back with a similar project, and then implementing it, will take some time. Scrapping the pilot scheme seems very strange.

Calls for more funding for cochlear implants fall on deaf ears, reduced instead

The Government has cancelled funding for cochlear implants after a successful campaign last year pushed the previous Government to give a funding boost.

Further campaigns this year have fallen on deaf ears in the new Government.

Minister of Health David Clark has refused to comment.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that provide sound signals to the brain when inner ear nerves that usually do this are damaged.

July last year: Kiwi woman urgently needing cochlear implant not even on waiting list and feeling ignored

In March, 1 NEWS told how the 22-year-old would be completely deaf, if she didn’t have a cochlear implant.

Now, with just weeks before her hearing deteriorates completely, she’s learned that she isn’t even on a waiting list for the surgery.

She says she is “depressed, angry and upset” by the news.

Now almost 25,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to step in.

A petition signed by 26,000 people was presented to Parliament in August. Later that month (during the election campaign): Cochlear funding boost music to ears of deaf Kiwi adults

Another 60 adults will once again be able to hear thanks to a boost in funding for cochlear implants.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman this morning announced an extra $6.5 million would be spent on providing cochlear implants for adults.

There are currently 224 adults on the waiting list for a funded cochlear implant.

Up until now there has been funding for only 40 a year but in 2017/18 there will be money available for 100 people to have the life-changing procedure.

The money, taken from another part of the health system, would take the Cochlear Implant Programme’s total funding to $14.93m, Coleman said.

“The investment will also increase the capacity within the system and cover the additional audiology and rehabilitation time required to support such a massive uplift.”

Levin surf lifesaver Danielle Mackay, 22, has been waiting for a publicly-funded implant for more than three years and will now finally get one.

In January this year – Deaf device: ‘A lot of people don’t want to wait’

Profoundly deaf people are bypassing a waiting list and paying to get their first Cochlear implant because they can’t bear to wait several years before they get their hearing back.

More funding for the cochlear implants – which can change the life of a deaf person – is needed, say advocates.

Dr Baber said about a third of the people who came in wanting an implant were turned away after being assessed.

Mr Baber supported the call for more public funding for Cochlear implants.

“They are considered the third most cost-effective high-tech medical intervention there is.”

Yesterday Stuff reported Government’s ‘shocking’ $6.5 million funding cut to cochlear implants

The Government has quietly cancelled extra funding for cochlear implants, despite a successful campaign for publicly-funded devices for every Kiwi who needed one.

Levin surf lifesaver Danielle McKay spearheaded the campaign after she waited three years for the surgery. She said the decision to slash the $6.5million funding boost was “shocking” and “disappointing.”

Health Minister David Clark refused to comment on the cut. But a spokesman confirmed that extra funding was not extended in this year’s Budget.

National Party spokesman for health Michael Woodhouse:

“It’s a callous and disgraceful decision which is going to see people lose their hearing when they don’t need to,” Woodhouse said. “We boosted the number of funded cochlear implants for adults and sped up access to implants for children.”

“This Government doesn’t see saving the hearing of hundreds of New Zealanders as a priority and those hundreds of New Zealanders and their families will be bitterly disappointed.

“Let’s not forget this Government has claimed for years there was a health crisis and now they’re in Government they’re cutting funding.

“It’s a disgrace.”

There are many demands on the health system and on Government funding, and it isn’t possible to fund everything, but cutting back on funding is difficult to defend – so Clark has chosen to not try to defend it.

Discussion on this at Reddit. Is not continuing a funding boost a funding cut?

 

Quietly scrapped national health targets, no replacement yet

Health Minister David Clark has decided to quietly scrap national health targets, without debate, without evidence, and without anything yet but a vague promise to replace them with.

There is nothing in the Beehive media releases, but yesterday National claimed Government axes National Health Targets

The Government’s quiet shelving of National Health Targets is bad news for Southland says local MP, Sarah Dowie.

“It is outrageous that the Government has done away with the targets which include a set of six major indicators, which measured DHB’s throughput in surgeries, cancer treatment, Emergency Department waiting times and childhood immunisations, as well as B4 School checks and help for smokers to quit.

“Just as they scrapped National Standards within education, they have done away the Health Targets that ensure public reporting of DHB’s performance with no plan of how to effectively manage and monitor the healthcare of New Zealanders.

“Minister Clark needs to realise that you cannot effectively operate healthcare systems on anecdotal evidence.”

Simon Bridges (RNZ): Ditching health targets is ‘absolutely outrageous’

The targets were put in place by the former National-led government in 2009.

They focussed on six areas: increased immunisation, faster cancer treatment, shorter stays in emergency departments, improved access to elective surgery, helping smokers to quit and raising healthy kids.

Mr Bridges said it was absolutely outrageous that the government had canned the targets.

He said it was a prime area where the government could be held to account.

“Over time dropping the targets, losing the accountability will mean more illnesses and more fatalities in our health system that could have been prevented.”

The Health Minister’s office…

…said the old targets would not be published, and new targets were being developed.

Meaning the old targets are being scrapped,

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters…

…said National had the wrong end of the stick.

“They are not correct in saying we’ve dropped health targets, we just think those health targets were such a miserable failure that we have to find something that works and that is better, and that’s what we are working on at the moment.”

Peters proves himself incorrect in the same sentence.

Stuff:  How’s your DHB doing? Govt does away with National Health Targets

Public reporting of District Health Boards’ (DHB) performance of procedures including elective surgeries, cancer treatment times and Emergency Department wait times, has been axed.

It also appears a new project to publicly measure elective surgery referrals and rejections has also been quietly shelved, with the Ministry of Health failing to release updated figures since the election.

Health Minister David Clark said the targets created “perverse incentives”, particularly in relation to surgery – but the Opposition said there was no evidence to suggest that’s true.

And while there has been no announcement, the National Patient Flow project – which measured the number of patients being turned away from the operating table – has not released any updated figures since September last year. That project was launched following intense political pressure from Labour, over surgical unmet need.

Clark has given an assurance that more surgeries would be performed, but there was currently no public measure of that.

Just trust Clark’s word, with no numbers?

“As minister, I’m concerned about the perverse incentives that exist under the existing targets, whereby we’ve had what were traditionally cheaper surgeries performed in more expensive environments and so not spending the health dollar as wisely as it could be spent,” he said.

Clark, who has also implemented a complete review of the health sector, said the current system wasn’t “fit for purpose”.

Nationals health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse asked Minister Clark about it in Parliament yesterday.

8. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Why does the Government intend to dispense with the national health targets?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The previous Government’s health target data has not been published since August 2017. I want a health system that has honest and transparent reporting.

Woodhouse complained that his question ‘why’ wasn’t answered, but I think it is established under Speaker Mallard in Parliament that avoiding answering is an obvious answer of not disputing what was asked.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he stand by his statement that the targets create “perverse incentives”; if so, what is his definition of “perverse incentive”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: A good example of a perverse incentive is to recall what happened toward the end of the previous Government’s tenure, when the overall statistics showed that the number of electives was going up, yet in centres like Northland, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, and Waikato, if Avastin injections and skin lesion removals were taken out of those pumped-up statistics, the actual number of surgeries was dropping. Despite a growing population, the actual number of surgeries was dropping. That Government should hang its head in shame. That is the result of nine years of underfunding.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that, is it his view that eye procedures designed to save the sight of patients with macular degeneration, or skin procedures aimed at improving the prognosis of cancer patients, are not worthy of undertaking or counting?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that skin lesion removals can be performed for roughly half the price in a primary care setting as compared to being performed in a hospital setting. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you can afford to perform twice as many surgeries, more lives will be saved.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it appropriate to describe the saving of more than 700 lives a year by implementing targets to improve emergency department waiting times, as reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal last year, as a perverse incentive?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don’t think anyone is saying that about that target. We will continue to monitor a range of measures, dozens of measures, through the Ministry of Health, and the district health boards will be held to account for improved performance.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: What possible benefit to New Zealanders can come from the dispensing with of publicly stated targets that improve surgery throughput, reduce waiting times, improve health, and quite literally save lives?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I disagree with the member’s characterisation. What we know is that that set of targets was driving a set of behaviours which may have led to the public health dollar being more poorly spent, with health consequences for New Zealanders. By defending a set of targets with perverse outcomes in it, the actual fact is that that member and his former Government may well have been driving poorer health outcomes for New Zealanders.

Audrey Young points out Labour ditches national health targets with no debate on their value

At no point during the election campaign last year did Labour or its coalition partner campaign to get rid of national health targets.

So the decision Health Minister David Clark to drop national health targets came like a bolt.

In fact for the past six years Labour and Jacinda Ardern in particular have insisted there is value in having specific targets in the area of child poverty in order to measure progress.

Ardern won that argument. There has been wide buy-in to that argument, which makes Clark’s decision when it comes to public health the more bizarre.

It was a decision that did not go to Cabinet – and should have.

The least that the new Government could have done was come up with its own priorities or have some new form of accountability in place before ditching the targets.

Quietly dropping the targets without saying so and without debate is a concern, especially when there is nothing in place yet to replace them.

Dominion Post editorial: Trust me, I know what I’m doing

Health Minister David Clark is scrapping National Health Targets that publicly address district health boards’ success or failure in achieving, among other things, reasonable treatment times, numbers getting surgery, waiting times in emergency departments, and immunisations.

Incredibly, the National Patient Flow project, which monitors the number of people turned away from surgery, and which Labour supported while in opposition, also appears to have been sidelined.

In making these changes, he has criticised the “perverse incentives” created by the previous monitoring regime. Also, Labour has intimated that the DHBs and the previous National government padded the statistics with easier procedures, that they gamed the system. Trouble is, there’s no evidence. Just a “vibe”, it seems.

No evidence, just Clark thinking he knows best. That’s a concern, especially in health.

This Government has set aside an extra $31.5 million for elective surgery; Clark insists that will mean more operations and that the performance of the Ministry of Health in delivering those will be monitored.

But we just won’t have the regular, public updates to help verify that.

What we do have is the minister’s assurances that more operations will be done, at lower cost, with more beneficial outcomes.

He appears to be asking us to simply trust him.

Trust a politician? If things don’t go according to plan politicians are notorious for hiding bad news.

Clark had better hope that there is a perceptible improvement or he could come under fire in the future.

Significant pay settlement for mental health workers

Community and institutional mental health care has been deficient ever since mental hospitals were mostly emptied several decades ago.

Last year when 55,000  aged and disability residential care, and home and community support services workers, were awarded a long overdue pay increase (from the bare minimum to something relatively reasonable) there was a notable exclusion of 5,000 mental health care workers.

Yesterday the Minister of Health David Clark announced that this would be rectified.


Pay equity settlement for mental health and addiction support workers

Health Minister Dr David Clark is pleased to announce an estimated 5,000 mental health and addiction support workers will soon receive the same pay rates as care and support workers.

In an agreement with unions and employers, the Government will extend the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act to include mental health and addiction support workers.

Nearly half will get an increase of more than $3 per hour which means full-time workers will be paid approximately an extra $120 a week before tax.  One-in-five workers will get an increase of more than $5 per hour or around an extra $200 for a 40-hour week.

The new pay scale reflects workers’ qualifications and experience. It will be back-dated to 1 July 2017.

“This agreement puts right a problem created by the previous Government, which deliberately excluded mental health and addiction workers from the Care and Support Workers settlement. These workers often support New Zealanders when they are most vulnerable and they deserve a fair go. This Government has delivered that,” says Dr Clark.

“Ensuring our mental health and addiction workers are paid what they deserve will help deliver a robust workforce,” says Dr Clark.

The $173.5 million settlement extension will be implemented over a five-year term and funded through an increase to Vote Health.


This will go some way towards improving mental health care in institutions, community houses and the community generally.

Mental health issues impact on many things, including general health, education, workplace productivity, crime, prison overcrowding and rehabilitation.

Paying workers more will help get more and better care for people with mental health issues and their families.

This costs a bit but it should be money well spent.