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Finch Sings on Health Reforms

Victor Luca

On Wednesday the 16th of February, Mr Ian Finch, our local BOP District Health Board representative, was kind enough, and brave enough, to come to address Grey Power members on the health and disability system reforms that government is going to ram through.

Having a good health system should be of paramount interest to all New Zealanders. Among the 38 OECD countries, the performance of our health system often scores in the bottom third. We have one of the lowest numbers of beds per 100,000 population of any country and some of the longest waiting lists.

To my way of thinking, a good health system should offer everything that was promised in the Social Security Act of 1938. It should offer universal availability without barriers to access, equal access to the same standard of treatment, it should have a preventive rather than curative focus, and it should offer integrated not fragmented services between primary and hospital-based care.

One important reform will be that the 20 DHBs will be eliminated and replaced by two agencies, Health NZ and a Maori Health Authority. Mr Finch claims that the ethos of the new system will be about “local people doing local things for local people”. However, it is absolutely clear that the new system is going to remove the local aspect to decision making. In this respect the new structure starts to resemble what we had in the past, and was at the time deemed not to be working, which is why the 20 DHBs were put in place in the first place. Talk about speaking with forked tongue!

Mr Finch had no answer when it was pointed out that in a ‘for profit’ health system, it is those folk at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder that suffer most. Those folk at the bottom can be of any race, culture, color, religion and so forth. Basically, the more money you have the better off you are in a fully privatized ‘for profit’ system. It is not just a Maori versus Pakeha and Non-Maori problem. If you are at the bottom of the ladder, then life in a ‘for profit’ system is going to be tough. For instance a $19-$35 per visit fee to see a GP may not be a barrier for me, but it certainly is a barrier for many. In the prevention area we are bordering on pathetic.

It was pointed out to Mr Finch that health is also about having some skin in the game and that health education was important. If you smoke, drink and eat badly and don’t exercise you are not going to fare well in any health system.

Mr Finch shared with the meeting that a new Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner would finally be made available in Whakatāne and that this would be in private hands. We are finally going to make up some ground on our richer cousins in the Western Bay.

An MRI scanner was promised to us more than two years ago but apparently the offer was withdrawn due to the fact that the government ‘had no money’. The new scanner we are once again being promised would be operated by Bay Radiology Ltd, the private outfit that already operates four scanners in Tauranga. This news was not appreciated by some of us that have been arguing against continued privatization of health services. The more we privatize the more we start to look like the United States, and that my people, will be very bad for all but the very wealthy. At the moment about 40% of the MRI units in NZ are in private hands. This new scanner will further increase the privatization of medical imaging services.

Folk should ask themselves if we really want to be like the United States. Look at the response of the US health system to COVID. One million dead and still counting. A disproportionate number of the dead have been blacks and Hispanics. This is what you get when the profit motive trumps health outcomes.

Finch - Health reforms lecture to grey Power - 16Feb22
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