Health policy: My view


Health is one of the more ideological battleground issues when it comes to politics, election promises and public expenditure. Whilst it is not the divisive monster that rears its head up in the United States, leaving behind a hodge podge of policies that only partially work, it is still a significant hot potato portfolio for any politician to be handling. So, what do I think of it in the context of the 2017 election?

In the last few years, stemming from a combination of people suffering from earthquake related issues to a shockingly high suicide rate, mental health has become one of the leading health issues across a broad portfolio. Both parties have announced plans for expenditure relating to mental health, but as with other policy areas, neither National or Labour seem to have a king hit policy. Competing against the need for an increase in Accident and Emergency Department capacity at hospitals across the country; obesity and dental issues, mental health is just one area looking for help.

A mental health review is meaningless if its recommendations are not going to then be quickly and thoroughly implemented. Far more meaningful would be the following:

  • Labour’s policy of having a counsellor in every school to talk to children and their parents about their children’s mental well being
  • An annual check by General Practitioners
  • A national programme featuring celebrities such as Sir John Kirwan who fought depression

Both National and Labour have announced plans to build a new hospital in Dunedin. Great news for Dunedin definitely, but a new hospital is nothing without a properly resourced and trained staff working sustainable hours where they are not fatigued. Just like other hospitals across New Zealand I am sure there are overworked G.P.’s and nurses dreading the day that they accidentally make a procedural mistake that upends someones life.

I therefore propose:

  • A review of G.P. and nurse rostering be jointly undertaken by D.H.B.’s and the Ministry of Health
  • A maximum number of hours per week that staff can work before a compulsory stand down happens

Another issue that concerns me is how much could be saved if we required tourists coming to New Zealand to have medical insurance. Between January 2013 and October 2016, New Zealand D.H.B.’s spent $160 million on treating patients that were not eligible for public care, and this included one patient who ran up a $106,000 bill for acute surgery.

I therefore propose:

  • that visitor New Zealand be required to purchase medical insurance before they enter the country.
  • that District Health Boards ability to recover costs from the patients be strengthened
  • that airlines flying into New Zealand be encouraged to put on their website a medical insurance policy link to a page that explains the risk in New Zealand

Obesity is a nation wide problem. I am obese myself. In part it has to do with my blood pressure medication which I believe suppress the signals from stomach to brain about how full it is. Another part of the problem is the nature of my work roster – inconsistent hours meant inconsistent eating habits. This is something I am sure is not just restricted to me. However there is also a degree of responsibility. If children take a high sugar drink to bed with them, aside from destroying their teeth, there is no prospect of that being burnt off because the body is about to shut down for several hours.

I therefore propose:

  • to get sugar based drinks out of New Zealand schools and replaced with juice, milk or water at canteens; remove potato chips and offer crackers or fruit
  • have hospitals led by example and remove coke vending machines
  • to remove in the first term G.S.T. off fruit and vegetables

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