OPINION: The last minute decision by Health Minister Andrew Little to give the rural community some status in the new health reforms bill - Pae Ora Healthy Futures, is a victory, but there never should have been a fight over this.
“Covid-19 has been hugely disruptive to hospital systems all over the world,” Little told health users, providers and unions in Auckland this morning.
“In England, for example, there was a 200-fold increase in the number of people waiting for planned care for more than a year, from just over 1,600 in February 2020, to more than 300,000 in Novembr 2021.”
Little says New Zealand has done better in its elimination strategy than other countries which, he claims, has prevented the health system from being overrun.
“In fact, for most of the past two years, our hospitals have been free of Covid-19 and were able to keep functioning normally for long periods of time.”
However, he says the Delta and Omicron variants have put pressure on hospitals.
The number of people waiting longer than four months for their first appointments with hospital specialists had doubled because of the pandemic, and the number of people waiting longer than four months for treatment has more than trebled.
“For people who need these procedures and appointments, having to wait is distressing,” Little says.
“Now, with the benefit of having one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world, and with a suite of new medicines available to treat Covid-19 patients and keep them out of hospital, we can start managing on a more business-as-usual basis.”
The Government’s waiting list response is being led by interim Health New Zealand and the interim Māori Health Authority. The two organisations will become permanent entities when the Government’s health reforms come into effect July 1.
“We have an opportunity right up-front to harness one of the principal benefits of the reforms – a truly nationwide approach to the health problems that affect us all,” Little says.
The work will be overseen by a taskforce headed by Counties Manukau chief medical officer Andrew Connolly.
The taskforce is designed to help hospitals take necessary short-term measures to reduce wait times, and will be responsible for delivering a national plan by September.
“I have been told that if we try to approach this problem in the ways we have before, it could take between three to five years to clear the planned-care backlog,” Little says.
“It is my expectation that we can clear the backlog in considerably less time than that.”