Tina Smith, a Senior Lecturer in nurse education at the Universal College of Learning, explains why the future of healthcare is such an important issue at this election.
“Health, wealth and happiness”, is a very common saying because without health you will not have wealth or happiness and this applies not only to individuals but to our communities and our country. Hence, health should be a priority.
Yet over the last decade the health statistics for New Zealanders have deteriorated. We now have the highest numbers of suicides, people unable to get the health care they need at both GP level and on surgical waiting lists (having been removed or not made it onto a surgical waiting list!), not to mention continuous issues in mental health. The DHB’s deficits are ballooning with the latest Ministry of Health data showing the level being $117 million, more than twice the $58m forecast in October 2016 (Stuff, August 25 2017).
As a nursing lecturer I see issues across so many areas of society because care and health have been pushed down the priority list for over a decade. The current Government has chronically underfunded health care, with resources wasted on tendering for contracts, continuous restructuring and increasing privatisation.
The philosophy has demanded competition rather than collaboration between sectors. It does not make sense for a DHB to have to have a contract for a set number of district nurse visits per year. The resources spent establishing a contract are wasted time and money better spent on patients and when the number of visits are met in October and people still require dressings and cancer care at home, the service has to run at a loss – this is madness!
Health care is expensive. The demands are increasing with population growth, an aging population and new technologies that require investment and development. But it is for the good of society and the country. We will not prosper as a country without good health and the human and societal cost of poor health and poor health care is even more expensive.
Privatisation and competition are not the answer for health care. The private sector does not want to tender for contracts to look after an 85 year old with a complicated medical history who falls and fractures their hip. They know they cannot make a profit from this type of person. Likewise, they don’t want to fund high quality cancer care. And allowing the private sector to “cream” money off the public health sector just leaves less money to care for those such as the 85 year old and those with cancer.
Short sighted and short term measures such as the National party minister telling Canterbury DHB to look at selling and then leasing buildings to manage its $54M deficit, will not provide quality care in the future. Just as selling off our state houses left people homeless and sleeping in cars and tents, selling off our hospitals and infrastructure just means more expensive health care in the future.
We need a properly funded, publically owned health sector that has a long term vision for improved health outcomes for all New Zealanders. We need to invest in our health professionals through good education, safe work places and appropriate remuneration. These staff are currently under pressure, emotionally drained and experiencing or witnessing unwarranted behaviour. This is not good enough. These amazing people are responsible for the care and wellbeing of yours and my family. We depend on them.
Mahatma Gandhi said “it is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold or silver”. Let’s invest in health, vote to keep it public!