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    The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away - Part 2
    Conrad - 6/6/98

    If you haven't already, check out Part 1...

    The state of the New Zealand Health system has been under scrutiny a lot recently. Firstly there was the Taranaki-King Country by-election which gave the voters the chance to protest against the Government by voting for the opposition. In this case the anti-Government vote seemed to go mainly to ACT who are even more right-wing than National, which is a pretty strange way to protest against hospital closures in rural New Zealand when ACT would like to privatise the entire Health system.

    National campaigned on the Health issue by not promising not to close rural hospitals or cut rural elective surgery, if you don't mind the double negative, as obviously those who voted National didn't. This means that they have not ruled out a future where those in rural areas have to travel to one of the main centres for elective surgery, which just adds to the ignominy when you're already on a waiting list.

    Then came the budget last week where with one hand the Government pledged a 6% funding increase to help tackle the waiting lists, among other things. I'm sure the woman on a 130 year waiting list for leg surgery will be relieved to know she will only have to wait 20 fewer years now.

    However with the other hand they've slashed about one quarter of those on the waiting lists by sending them back to their GP and giving them the option of private surgery or having their condition medically managed. Yes the waiting list problem tackled with the stroke of a pen! Never mind that they were on the waiting list in the first place because their GP had already decided that was the best option and because they couldn't afford private surgery. As John Banks said "It's rather like a food bank telling people to go to a supermarket instead."

    The most important news in the Budget for Health however was that hospitals would now be called hospitals, rather than CHE's (Crown Health Enterprises), despite everyone apart from Ministers having continued to call them hospitals anyway. Their next major employment initiative may be to rename the Income Support Service as the Dole Office. Perhaps Treasury could be renamed the Department of Unemployment Expansion.

    Meanwhile there are fears that the Ambulance Service will be 'restructured' in the same way the Fire Service is to be (see part 1). There have been several stories in the media over recent months about people who have died while waiting for a heart operation because of the length of the waiting list. Each time Bill English (Minister of Health) has issued a public apology. When is the Government going to realise that the state of the Health system and the preciousness of peoples lives is more important to the country than another frigate, or the allowance for a retired MP's family to fly to Europe for free.


    Published with permission from NZine