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October 2021 Newsletter

President's Message

You would have to have been living on another planet in the last 18 months not to have noticed that we are currently in the midst of an extremely serious pandemic. So far only one billion of the seven billion people on the planet have been infected with the COVID-19 virus and already in excess of six million people have died.

After managing to eliminate the virus in early 2020 and living COVID free for more than 160 days it would seem that our luck ran out on 16th of August of 2021 when we let the delta variant of the virus into our country. We all by now know that this variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more infectious and virulent than the original variant and it is looking very much like we will not be able to bring it to heel.

If we fail to control this latest outbreak our hospital system is likely to become overwhelmed. It will not take much for this to happen because for decades, in the interests of economic rationalism, we have been busy trying to make our market-centric health system as streamlined as possible. We have today what you might call a ‘just in time’ and ‘just enough’ health system where we have just enough beds, just enough medical staff, just enough medical supplies and just in time procurement.

It seems to me that even under normal conditions our health system struggles to cope with the load of infectious and non-communicable diseases, elective and non-elective surgery. It is no accident that we have a health system that seems to be perpetually on the brink of collapse. It has been designed to prioritize costs rather than health care. A result of deliberate government policies. In 1960 we had about 1,200 hospital beds per 100,000 of population. This is what Japan has today. On the other hand, today we have a mere 260. In the New Zealand health system, only 4.6 of those 260 beds are ICU beds. For comparison, UK has 6.4 beds per 100,000 of population, Australia 8.9 and Germany 38.7. That is the state of our health system today, and I have been informing the community about the situation via my Beacon articles for some time now.

This pandemic is not a freak event. For decades now scientists have been warning us that such a pandemic could hit at any moment and with potentially devastating consequences for society. They have been urging decision makers to invest in preparing for such an eventuality. Most of this has fallen on deaf ears. I have been researching our health system for two years now, and it seems to me that we are inexorably heading in the direction of an American style, largely privatized, market-based system. Our health authorities have thus far not been able to provide me any robust rationale for what they have been doing. I will elaborate on this in future communications to members.

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