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Andrew Dickens: Labour and National are both cynically politicising healthcare

Andrew Dickens ,
Publish Date
Monday, 29 July 2019, 12:20PM
National is jumping on the cancer bandwagon, but Labour has done the same with healthcare, writes Andrew Dickens. (Photo / NZ Herald)

There is no doubt that Simon Bridges had a good weekend at the National Party Conference.

Saturday was a bit wobbly as he announced the new slogan 'Our bottom line is you'. I understand what they’re trying to say but it’s just a bit obtuse and awkward and includes the word bottom which some cringe worthy people find titillating. 

And I see that people are already drawing cartoons and making jokes along the lines that Mr Bridges knows all about the bottom line because that’s where his personal polling is at.

But Sunday he came out charging with some strong TV interviews and a keynote address where he announced a policy that gave $200 million to the fight against cancer.  The money is there to fund drugs and to form an agency to co-ordinate cancer treatment around the nation. 

No one is against fighting cancer.  In fact the whole idea of an agency is something that Labour campaigned on in 2017.  So in essence, National was taking Labour’s policy and pointing out how tardy and slow they are in delivering change.

But there’s a little piece of me that found the whole thing a little distasteful and cynical. A cancer agency is not something that National has ever campaigned on or talked about including in the 9 years of it’s last term.  In fact, in 2015 they actually cancelled the independent cancer committee which was charged with overseeing and improving nationwide cancer services.  National has always been leery of centralisation and nationalisation of anything including health services.

But they’ve been watching Blair Vining making headlines for a month as he brought in an extraordinary petition calling for improvements in the way we fight cancer and you get the feeling that they thought they’d just ride along on the coat tails.

Health Minister David Clark criticised the national policy as being short on detail which I believe is true. On the National Party website I can only find two A4 pages with details on how the $200 million will be utilised. 

In essence $50 miilion a year will be ring fenced for cancer drugs for four years which to be honest is a drop in the ocean and very close to inflation adjustment anyway.  Meanwhile it estimates the cancer agency will cost $10 million a year to implement.  That’s $40 million over 4 years which is on top of the $200 million. 

And let’s just stop for a minute and consider Blair Vining’s case. New drug funding wouldn’t have helped Blair. What he needed was better screening and faster consultation. 

If we’re serious about the battle against cancer, we need to be catching it earlier with efficient screening programmes, not funding expensive and experimental drugs to fund late stage cancer suffering that should have been caught quicker.

I don’t think National’s thought this out at all and I have no proof that Labour has either even though David Clark says he’s going to announce their strategy within weeks. Sure you are. - you have to because National called your bluff.

Labour’s just as bad at playing a cynical game with health funding and people’s lives. 'Mental Health' was the buzzword around budget time and they gave $1.9 billion to it. But now they’ve got roadshows going round the country trying to work out what to do with the money. How can you decide a budget when you don’t even know what it’s for?

This politicisation of health care infuriates me. The structure and quality of healthcare should not be dependent  on whatever party is in power. Healthcare is not a philosophy. Healthcare is a science and an exercise in logistics. All politicians should be doing is ensuring the funding based on expert advice.     

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