Much Ado About Nothing

By Jim McVeagh 20/11/2009

The Herald journalist who produced yesterday’s spam continues his story about nothing today. Now he has a nice long rant from Ian Powell of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (senior doctor’s union). Not that Ian has bother to check his facts either.

Despite a doubling in government spending on health in the past 10 years, Mr Powell said public hospitals were under-funded. “While hospital costs have increased by around 6 per cent per year, funding has increased by around 3 per cent.”

Ten per cent cuts on top of this “will risk compromising patient access to public hospitals, the quality of care, and patient safety.”

Strange how he doesn’t seem to realise that the increase in funding was nearly 7% last year (and most of that went to hospitals). He has also not bothered to check the hospital’s exaggeration against Tony Ryall’s actual words, choosing just to pontificate on the proposed 10% cuts – despite this being patently absurd.

Ryall has proposed no overall cuts at all. He has sensibly signaled that the DHBs should shut down some of their health promotions, especially in schools, and move the money into more vital areas such as cancer treatment. While no one denies that health promotion is important, the simple fact remains that in the current economic climate the health services in this country need to prioritize their spending. Health promotion has a notoriously low bang for the buck, mainly because so few of them make any appreciable inroads into the health problem they are addressing. It is far more important that the DHBs get their elective services right, before they start spending money on health promotions with dubious results.

Later in the piece Ian Powell talks about his real concerns though – doctor’s salaries. As the doctor’s union rep, this is a perfectly legitimate concern and , ironically, about the only valid one. With budgets being squeezed everywhere (not just in health) there is precious little room for DHBs to address the uncompetitive nature of doctor’s employment packages, making it difficult for them to recruit and retain doctors. The gradual doctor brain-drain looks set to continue.


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