Trump wants UK National Health Service included in trade negotiations

Donald Trump’s visit to the UK was always going to be controversial. He has strongly supported Brexit, something that is dividing the UK. But Trump has upped the ante – he says that when US-UK trade takes start after Brexit (if it ever happens) he wants the UK National Health Service to be opened up to US companies.

Fortune: There’s One Subject in the U.K. That’s as Toxic as Brexit. Trump Just Waded Into It

Once, advocates of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union argued that Brexit would mean more government funding for the country’s National Health Service, or NHS.

Now, President Donald Trump has confirmed the opposite: in trade talks between the U.S. and U.K., which will take place once Brexit has gone into effect, the U.S. wants the U.K. to open up the cherished British public health system to American companies.

“I think everything with a trade deal is on the table… NHS and anything else, a lot more than that,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, on the second day of his state visit.

The president was responding to a question about whether he agreed with the U.S ambassador to the U.K., Woody Johnson, who said Sunday that he assumed the NHS “would be on the table” in the imminent trade talks, as the negotiations would account for the entire British economy. And his response has already elicited fury among leading politicians from across the British political spectrum.

The public nature of the NHS, which has been free to use for seven decades, is practically seen as sacred in the U.K., and attempts to change that status are politically toxic. A degree of privatization has been taking place in recent years, but NHS bosses want to reverse the process by squeezing out local for-profit contractors such as Virgin Care and Care U.K.

Further opening up the NHS to American contractors would therefore be an explosive political development. The U.S. ambassador’s comment prompted British Health Secretary Matt Hancock—one of the contenders for May’s job, as she is about to step down—to defend the health service in unequivocal terms.

However it’s hard to see much progress being made on US-UK trade talks at this stage. Brexit looks to be far from resolved, and the Prime Minister who Trump is meeting with, Theresa May, is soon stepping down. The NHS is likely to now feature in the contest for leadership of the Conservative party and the country.

RNZ: Trump praises ‘extraordinary’ US-UK alliance on state visit

US President Donald Trump has said the US and UK have the “greatest alliance the world has ever known”.

That’s what you would expect when the current leaders of the US and UK are the greatest the world has ever known.

The US president met Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage at the US ambassador’s residence, Winfield House. Mr Farage tweeted that it was a “good meeting” and Mr Trump “really believes in Brexit”.

Mr Trump also said he turned down a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, who addressed protesters in Westminster. Mr Trump said Mr Corbyn was a “negative force”. “I really don’t like critics as much as I like and respect people who get things done,” he said.

Mrs May said the scope of trade talks had to be agreed by both countries.

Asked if the NHS would be included in post-Brexit trade talks, Mr Trump said “everything is on the table”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among several Conservative leadership candidates hoping to replace Theresa May who said they would not allow the NHS to become part of any trade talks. “Not on my watch,” he tweeted.

Perhaps the US will play a Trump card – impose tariffs on the UK unless they hand their health system over to US companies.

An experience with the health system

As others have noted Gezza has some health challenges at present. And like others I wish him the best outcome and a speedy recovery. His absence here is noticed.

I don’t want to detract from that, but this post is about someone else’s experience with the health system – mine.

Our health system cops a lot of criticism, especially related to finances and costs, and it’s struggle to provide all the health care that everyone wants and needs.  But recent experience of mine is mostly positive.

I was last in hospital as a patient in the 1960s – until last night.

Yesterday afternoon I started to get lower abdominal pains, which got worse as the day wore on. By early evening they were quite bad. I couldn’t lie, sit or stand with any degree of comfort. So I had a trip to the Dunedin Emergency Department.

It was busy, with the waiting room fairly full. I was seen quickly by the triage nurse, who took details and gave me some painkillers, and then asked me to wait in the waiting room. This was the bad part of my experience, trying to stop being too uncomfortable in a basic sort of chair in a crowded room for two hours, with the only break being a trip to the toilet to vomit.

When at last I was called I got a cubicle bed, and from there the care I received was all good, very thorough. I was quickly given a diagnosis, kidney stones, which was a surprise because I hadn’t thought of that and Google didn’t suggest it when I searched lower abdominal pain. While it was very painful and uncomfortable it didn’t seem like too big a deal.

I had a bunch of tests, blood, urine, blood pressure etc, plus an ECT thrown in (standard if you’re over 50). Then an xray, which confirmed the likelihood of kidney stones. By now it was getting late, and they gave me a bed in a quiet corner so that I would be on hand for a CT scan in the morning.

Breakfast was fairly bland and standard but adequate – fruit and cereal, and toast that is never great when it’s been cooked an hour ago, but that’s what you get.

Then the CT scan, followed by normal sort of waiting for results – long enough to get lunch, which was edible but bland soup and a quite nice sandwich.

The scan confirmed there were a couple of kidney stones.

According to online searches 10-20% of men get kidney stones at some stage of their life, and half the rate for women. About half of those who get them don’t get them again.

I was given a prescription and was able to go home and let nature take it’s course, hopefully. It could take a few days, possible weeks depending on what you find online.

We have a very multicultural health system, with doctors and nurses of at least seven obvious ethnic origins. All were professional, helpful and friendly, I could quibble about a couple of things but overall the care was very good, better than expected – having a not too bad diagnosis helped of course.

This is why there wasn’t much posting this morning, I did a bit when awake after a 3 am observation. But regulars kept things ticking away via comments, thanks for that as per usual.

Apart from complimenting this part of our health system, this makes one ponder how quickly your life can change. I have been inconvenienced but otherwise got off quite lightly – this time.

I’m grateful for what I’ve got, still, including a fairly decent health system.

And I will adjust my lifestyle. There are plenty of hints online.

Not smart (or healthy) to use smartphone too much

Research indicates that using a smartphone too much is increasing stress, is a threat to health, and could result in earlier death.

This could mean that too much raging online increases rage levels, causing more social strife.

I wonder if how you use your smartphone may matter more than how much you use it.

NY Times: Putting Down Your Phone May Help You Live Longer

By raising levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, our phone time may also be threatening our long-term health.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity and problem-solving and decision-making skills.

But there is another reason for us to rethink our relationships with our devices. By chronically raising levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our health and shortening our lives.

Until now, most discussions of phones’ biochemical effects have focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits — and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are explicitly designed to trigger dopamine’s release, with the goal of making our devices difficult to put down.

This is mostly about marketing – selling products and selling online services. Too much inane advertising watching passive media could also raise stress levels.

This manipulation of our dopamine systems is why many experts believe that we are developing behavioral addictions to our phones. But our phones’ effects on cortisol are potentially even more alarming.

Cortisol is our primary fight-or-flight hormone. Its release triggers physiological changes, such as spikes in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, that help us react to and survive acute physical threats.

These effects can be lifesaving if you are actually in physical danger — like, say, you’re being charged by a bull. But our bodies also release cortisol in response to emotional stressors where an increased heart rate isn’t going to do much good, such as checking your phone to find an angry email from your boss.

Not taking your work home with you is important in reducing work related stress. I’m not set up to get work emails on my phone, so I’m not effectively on call.

If they happened only occasionally, phone-induced cortisol spikes might not matter. But the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time, according to a tracking app called Moment. The result, as Google has noted in a report, is that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”

“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”

So an addiction to being connected is a large part of the problem.

Any time you check your phone, you’re likely to find something else stressful waiting for you, leading to another spike in cortisol and another craving to check your phone to make your anxiety go away. This cycle, when continuously reinforced, leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels.

And chronically elevated cortisol levels have been tied to an increased risk of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.

Making it likely people are getting crankier, more easily offended and upset, more intolerant.

Elevated cortisol levels impair the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain critical for decision-making and rational thought. “The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s Jiminy Cricket,” says Dr. Lustig. “It keeps us from doing stupid things.”

Impairment of the prefrontal cortex decreases self-control. When coupled with a powerful desire to allay our anxiety, this can lead us to do things that may be stress-relieving in the moment but are potentially fatal, such as texting while driving.

The effects of stress can be amplified even further if we are constantly worrying that something bad is about to happen, whether it’s a physical attack or an infuriating comment on social media.

Some people seem to be constantly worried about potential wars, perceived injustices and threats (justified or not) of reduced rights – and more susceptible to believing conspiracies?

To make your phone less stressful, start by turning off all notifications except for the ones you actually want to receive.

Next, pay attention to how individual apps make you feel when you use them. Which do you check out of anxiety? Which leave you feeling stressed? Hide these apps in a folder off your home screen. Or, better yet, delete them for a few days and see how it feels.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to create healthy boundaries with devices that are deliberately designed to discourage them. But by reducing our stress levels, doing so won’t just make us feel better day-to-day. It might actually lengthen our lives.

If you have a smartphone addiction try to use it less, stress less, and what you do may end up being better quality engagement.

 

More talk on ‘drug use is a health issue’ but where’s the action?

More talk but still a lack of action on drug abuse issues.

Minister of Police Stuart Nash talks some talk on addressing drug problems, but his Government is still failing to walk any meaningful walk on addressing urgent drug abuse issues.

RadioLive: Drug use should be treated ‘as a health issue’ – Stuart Nash

So why the fuck doesn’t the Government take urgent action to do that?

Police Minister Stuart Nash is refusing to say whether he’s for or against ending marijuana prohibition, but appears to be leaning in favour.

“I’m not going to give you a yes or no, because I want to see what this looks like,” he told host Duncan Garner.

“I’ll weigh up the benefits and I’ll vote accordingly.”

But as long as there are sufficient social services in place to deal with the harmful effects of marijuana, Mr Nash appears to be in favour of legalisation.

But the Government seems to be dragging the chain on this – they opposed Chloe Swarbrick’s bill, their own bill is limited to medicinal use of cannabis and they are not exactly rushing on that, and while greens got a promise of a referendum on cannabis law before or at the next election there is no sign of action there.

Drug abuse is already a major health and crime and prison issue. people continue to die, lives continue to be ruined, and all Nash does is parrot ‘drugs should be treated as a health issue’.

“I was incredibly proud of Jacinda Ardern not to sign up to Donald Trump’s new war on drugs,” he added. “We need to treat this as a health issue – the police are doing this, we’re doing this as a society.”

But nowhere enough, and nowhere near urgently enough.

He said the police are already using discretion not to criminalise drug users – even those consuming hard drugs.

“We refuse to treat every single addict out there as a criminal. This is a health issue. An example – Operation Daydream, this is going after the meth dealers and suppliers. Police did that, they rounded them up.

“After that they went to all the addicts and instead of putting them in front of a judge, as they have done in the past, they put them in front of social services to help these people. That’s the sort of society we need to create.”

One approach has had some success. Newsroom: Addiction courts save millions in prison costs

With more than 10,000 people behind bars and total prison costs expected to top $1 billion next year, politicians are desperate for ways to rein in the corrections system.

The problems sometimes seem intractable, the financial and human costs ever-increasing.

But far from the halls of power and policy summits, one approach being employed to stop people offending and going back to prison has had some real success.

Grounded in evidence and criminal justice research, the country’s two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) courts are tasked with handling one of the toughest, and most costly, cohort of offenders: recidivist criminals.

There is a clear pattern in the lives of this cohort. They commit crimes, go to prison, get released, and then start the cycle again.

In the AODT courts, the offenders also have an added layer of complexity – their offending has been clinically assessed as driven by their alcohol and/or drug addiction.

The two Auckland-based pilot courts, set up nearly seven years ago, have shown interesting results.

Great. So why not have more of this?

In an interview with Newsroom, Justice Minister Andrew Little is positive about the AODT courts, but says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.

An interim-evaluation took place four years ago, and showed positive progress.

“I have a personal and principled commitment to seeing more of this, but there is a commitment to doing a more formal evaluation of the court,” he says.

“That is underway. Following that, [will be] the basis for making my bid for more resourcing to see more of them.”

Little also alludes to the challenges of pushing for long-term change.

“This is the whole question in the broader criminal justice system. Treasury kind of weighs it every time. There might be greater resources needed at the front-end, but if that means that is resulting in fewer people going to prison, and we are still reducing the reoffending rate significantly and materially, then … that is the right place to put the resources rather than at the far end when it is kind of too late.”

However, for those who understand the improved outcomes achieved through AODT courts, waiting for another evaluation is a tough ask. Feedback from the recent Justice Summit in Wellington included queries around when other parts of New Zealand would have access to AODT courts.

As drink driving researcher Gerald Waters puts it: “I’ve also looked at all offending in New Zealand – 80 percent of crime is alcohol and drug related. It’s obvious that you shouldn’t be having drug court once a week – you should be having it six days a week with one day for normal crime”.

Like may things under the current Government, after making a big deal with what the achieved in their first 100 days – mostly initiating things that would take more time – Andrew Little ‘says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.’

In the meantime, drug use will be in part treated as a health issue, but will remain a large criminal and prison issue until they get off their inquiry laden arses and take urgent and comprehensive action.

Jacinda Ardern has promoted her Government as progressive – it may be, but it seems to be snail’s pace progress on things she and he ministers have claimed to be in need of urgent attention. This is very disappointing.

Cannabis poll: high support for use, not for supply

The NZ Drug Foundation has just released the results of a cannabis poll, carried out from 2 July 2018 until 17 July 2018

Participants stated whether an activity should be illegal, decriminalised, or legal.

Growing and/or using cannabis for medical reasons if you have a terminal illness

  • 10% – illegal
  • 17%  – decriminalised.
  • 72%- legal

Growing and/or using cannabis for any medical reasons such as to alleviate pain

  • 13% – illegal
  • 17%  – decriminalised.
  • 70%- legal

So high support for use of cannabis for medical reasons.

Growing a small amount of cannabis for personal use

  • 38% – illegal
  • 29%  – decriminalised
  • 32%- legal

Possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use

  • 31% – illegal
  • 32%  – decriminalised
  • 35%- legal

More wanting to keep it illegal for personal (recreational) use but still about two thirds in support for legal change.

Growing a small amount of cannabis for giving or selling to your friends

  • 69% – illegal
  • 18%  – decriminalised
  • 12%- legal

Selling cannabis from a store

  • 60% – illegal
  • 9%  – decriminalised.
  • 29%- legal

Here there is much higher support for staying illegal for ways of getting cannabis apart from growing your own.

Source: NZ Herald Cannabis issues poll

The poll was conducted by Curia Market Research

943 respondents agreed to participate out of a random selection of 15,000 phone numbers nationwide

Major review of health system

This one is called a Review but it seems to be similar to the scores of working groups and committees and inquiries set up by the Government.

A major health Review, to be chaired by Heather Simpson, senior staffer for Helen Clark when she was Prime minister and also in when working for the UN, and I think also assisting the current prime Minister’s office, will report back by January 2020.

That is unlikely to leave enough time to make any major changes prior to the election, but will likely provide for a  basis for Labour-Green campaign policy.


Major review of health system launched

Health Minister Dr David Clark has announced a wide-ranging review designed to future-proof our health and disability services.

“New Zealanders are generally well served by our health services, particularly when they are seriously unwell or injured. Overall we are living longer and healthier lives – but we also face major challenges,” says David Clark.

“The Review of the New Zealand Health and Disability Sector will be wide-ranging and firmly focused on a fairer future. It will look at the way we structure, resource and deliver health services – not just for the next few years but for decades to come.

“We need to face up to the fact that our health system does not deliver equally well for all. We know our Māori and Pacific peoples have worse health outcomes and shorter lives. That is something we simply cannot accept.

“We also need to get real about the impact of a growing and aging population, and the increase in chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. Those issues in turn create pressure on services and the health workforce that need to be addressed for the long term sustainability of our public health service.

“The Review will include a strong focus on primary and community based care. We want to make sure people get the health care they need to stay well. Early intervention and prevention work can also help take pressure off our hospitals and specialist services.

“People rightly have high expectations of our public health service. As Health Minister I want to ensure we can meet those expectations now and into the future,” says David Clark.

The Review will be chaired by Heather Simpson, who is perhaps best known as Chief of Staff to Helen Clark from 1999-2008 but also has a background in health economics. The Review will provide an interim report by the end of July 2019 and a final report by 31 January 2020.

 

The review would culminate in a report to Government, including recommendations, on:

  • How the health system can improve accessibility and outcomes for all populations
  • Whether the health system promotes the right balance between availability of services,
    (particularly tertiary services) population density and proximity
  • Whether the current system is well-placed to deal with environmental challenges such as climate
    change, antibiotic resistance and technological advances
  • Whether there are changes that can be made to the health system that would make it fairer,
    more equitable and effective
  • How the technological and global healthcare context is evolving, what opportunities and risks
    this rapidly-evolving context presents, and whether there are changes that would support the
    health system to adapt effectively given the rapid changes underway.

In examining the points above, the review would consider the following:

  • Demographic impacts – what the predicted population changes are, their potential impacts
    upon service demand, workforce availability and risks that may need to be managed
  • The international landscape – what New Zealand might learn from examining where health
    systems are heading internationally and what the impacts are, including input from relevant
    international organisations such as the OECD, World Health Organisation and the
    Commonwealth Fund
  • Decisions around distribution of healthcare resources, capacity of the health system to deliver
    care and clinical effectiveness (quality and safety) – e.g. how does the current geographic
    distribution of services help or hinder the system as a whole
  • Funding – how financial resources applied to health funding could be altered to provide
    greater flexibility in allocation, better transparency of return on investment, better support
    innovation in service mix/design and investment in key enablers, and reduce inequities
    through targeting those in need
  • Investment practices – providing a nation-wide view of how much infrastructure will be
    needed, over what timeframe and the balance to be struck across service provision and
    delivery
  • Ways to support the increasing priority of the role primary care and prevention has within the
    wider heath service
  • Potential opportunities and risks associated with rapidly emerging technological advances and
    the implications for, including but not limited to, clinical tools and settings, communication and
    transport
  • Institutional arrangements – roles and responsibilities, funding, accountability and delivery
    arrangements.

[DRAFT] Health and Disability Review Terms of Reference.pdf

Middlemore mould, health budget hole, the budget

Since the new Government took over there seems to have been a reduction in stories about hard done by beneficiaries and people living rough. But there has been a lot of lobbying going on before new Minister of Finance Grant Robertson’s first budget – nurses want more money, so do teachers, and health is always short of funds.

The Government is faced with a difficult decision over a new prison to cater for growing prisoner numbers. They have committed to a number of costs like benefit increases, the the ‘winter heating’ handout, free university fees, NZ First has been given a billion dollars a year to dole out to regions, and a major shift in transport funding has just been announced.

There’s been a number of curious things coming out about health and hospitals, perhaps not coincidentally leading up to next month’s budget. Is the public being prepared for a policy switch to justify increased health spending? More tax or more debt?

Suddenly it seems it has been discovered that there are major mould problems with multiple buildings at Middlemore Hospital.

Earlier this week – Ardern: Don’t blame us for health sector problems

The Prime Minister says National would have known the shortfall in the health spend when they were in government.

Jacinda Ardern says there’s a hole of around $10 billion – and that’s one of the reasons why her Government cancelled planned tax cuts scheduled for this month.

“I would have thought a minister of health would probably know that,” Ardern says.

Ardern says for National to claim they knew nothing about things like the mould at Middlemore Hospital is disingenuous.

Staff at Middlemore have also claimed they knew nothing about it.

“One of the latest emerging problems is the news that the buildings at Middlemore Hospital have become rotten and infested with a toxic black mould. I found out in the middle of a late-night ward round from a Radio NZ journalist who phoned seeking comment – I had none, because it was news to me. The next morning, the rest of our staff and all of New Zealand heard the story and over the next few days there followed a confusion of detail about the extent of the problems and who knew what when.”

https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/03-04-2018/the-toxic-mould-and-rot-of-middlemore-is-the-legacy-of-a-crisis-in-values/

So has the mould information only just come out, or did the last Minister of Health keep it a secret for this long?

Ardern:

“It is worse than we thought, when we look at the capital needs of hospitals and health in particular, [and] also the deficits DHBs are facing, it is worse than I anticipated.”

Blaming the previous Government is normal, as is acting surprised about higher costs than anticipated.

If people don’t pay as much on tax they can afford to spend more on health perhaps.

I would have thought that Steven Joyce would have proved the $11.7 billion hole existed if he could. Was he right, but hid details?

Or is Labour now trying to claim they have been duped?

It’s hard to know whether some of this is part or a PR plan or not, softening the public up for ‘unexpected’ increases in budget costs, and a sudden need to fund this through more taxes. National sort of did that by increasing GST, but they also decreased personal tax rates and had a Global Financial Crisis to deal with.

It’s hard to trust either Labour or National as they throw around blame and claims and money.

Talking of $11.7 billion, this may be just a coincidence, but the same number was noticed here:

 

 

Trans-Pacific Partnership “may affect people’s health”

On climate change, health implications, and  ‘a fairer society’.

Newsroom has an article by two academics on Trade agreement may affect people’s health:

The new Trans Pacific Partnership agreement will have an undeniable influence on the future health of New Zealanders and needs the full attention of the nation’s health professionals.

The rebranded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TransPacific Partnership (CPTPP) pays lip service to broader social and environmental concerns, but privileges transnational and foreign investors over human and environmental health.

This article focuses on the CPTPP in the context of the global climate crisis and its potential impacts on health.

There is scientific consensus on the harmful effects of climate change on health – so much so that it is identified as the most serious threat to global public health this century. Direct impacts include death, illness and injury due to extreme weather events. Indirect impacts include shifting patterns of infectious disease, air pollution, freshwater contamination, impacts on the built environment from sea level rise, forced migration, economic collapse, conflict over scarce resources and increasing food insecurity. Mental health impacts are also significant, particularly within indigenous and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

Fast forward to their final statement:

Such an assessment is particularly critical as climate change poses such clear risks to the health of New Zealanders, and the constraints on climate action conferred by the CPTPP (as presently formulated) would prevent important steps to protect our health and create a fairer society.

Fair enough to consider health implications, even if contentious.

But I view very subjective considerations like “create a fairer society” from academics with some suspicion.

This was from:

Associate Professor David Menkes is from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Dr Rhys Jones is from Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, both at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. The original, more extensive version of this article appeared in New Zealand Medical Journal on 9 March, co-authored by Wellington solicitor Oliver Hailes and two Christchurch-based doctors, clinical microbiologist Joshua Freeman and forensic psychiatrist Erik Monasterio.

Health funding ‘crisis’

Health spending has always been under pressure.Is it now a crisis? ‘Crisis’ suggests an unusually critical situation, but health under funding has long been an ailment.

Health care has increased substantially over the last half century, but so have the costs. Drugs and technology have improved and cost a lot more, and a growing and ageing population puts further pressures on budgets.

What the Government does on health in next month’s budget will be interesting. More money is likely (the previous government kept spending more) but it is unlikely to be enough.

The prime Minister and the Minister of health have both been sending out signals that spending may be compromised. They are claiming health ‘underfunding’ is worse than they thought.

Dave Armstrong has some details in Toss a healthy bit of funding at DHBs and voters will turn a blind eye to almost anything

I’m not sure about that, health doesn’t seem to play an obviously significant part in elections.

It has also been revealed that necessary spending on infrastructure has been delayed by a number of district health boards because they were under such pressure from the previous government to show an operating surplus

That’s why buildings at Middlemore Hospital with toxic mould and sewage leaks behind asbestos walls will need $123 million to be repaired. It seems that the mantra of the last government regarding health infrastructure was ‘a stitch in time causes an operating deficit that looks bad so please don’t ask for money or there’ll be trouble’.

Middlemore is just one example. The Clinical Services block at Dunedin Public Hospital has had leaking and asbestos problems for years. A replacement hospital in Dunedin has been delayed, and now it is over to the new government to try to keep an election promise.

Even though the Labour Party pledged $8 billion to health during the election campaign, Health Minister David Clark thinks that won’t be enough. It is estimated that $14 billion will be needed over the next 10 years for infrastructure alone.

Jacinda Ardern has found health finances are even worse than she expected. She identified $10 billion worth of capital expenditure needed whereas the previous government set aside just $600 million.

I don’t think it is unusual for incoming governments to discover costs that they hadn’t taken into account when making election promises.

The previous National government would rightly argue that it spent billions on health. Spending increased under its watch, but was it enough to meet rising demand? With failing infrastructure and frustrated salary workers who haven’t had a raise of ages, I would say no.

Despite disingenuous claims by Labour health funding kept increasing under the National government. But health funding is never enough.

So what’s the solution? Ask most health professionals and they would suggest a substantial investment in infrastructure and pay rises for hospital staff, especially nurses and those at the bottom. But given about 60 per cent of health expenditure is for salaried staff, that is a considerable cost.

Nurses are currently negotiating for wage increases, and are threatening to go on strike.

And that is the problem for this Government. They may want nurses and others to be paid fairly, but where is the money coming from? During the election campaign, Ardern and Grant Robertson were at pains to point out they wouldn’t touch the corporate tax rate or John Key’s 2008 tax cuts for the wealthy.

This reticence to change the wealth distribution might have helped them get elected but now they either have to find the money elsewhere or disappoint underpaid nurses, many of whom would have voted for them.

So that’s the unenviable health dilemma that this Government faces over the next three years.

The immediate dilemma is the budget currently being finalised. We will find out how much of a boost health funding will get next month.  The only certainty is that it won’t be enough.

Woodhouse appointed to Opposition health role

A National shuffle was required after Jonathan Coleman announced his resignation from Parliament. Simon Bridges has appointed Michael Woodhouse to replace him as Opposition spokesperson for Health.

Michael Woodhouse.jpg

After studying commerce and accounting Woodhouse worked for an accountant, at Dunedin Hospital and for ACC before becoming CEO of the private Mercy Hospital.

He was elected as a list MP in 2008, and became a minister in the National Government in 2013.

It’s interesting (for me anyway) that the current Minister for Health, David Clark, and the new Opposition spokesperson for health have both contested the Dunedin North electorate. Especially so with the ongoing delays in announcing plans for the replacement of the Dunedin Public Hospital.

Woodhouse was ranked 10 on the National list for the 2017 election, but is currently rank #13 after Bridges’ recent appointments. That may change slightly after Coleman leaves Parliament.

1 News: National Party appoints Michael Woodhouse as new Health spokesperson

In two other National Party changes Nikki Kaye has been appointed Sport and Recreation spokesperson and Scott Simpson has been appointed Workplace Relations spokesperson.