As the two major parties in the New Zealand election continue to argue over their accounting and budgeting skills, I can’t help but get more and more concerned about plans to get our health system back on track.
Before Covid-19 became a daily headline, our health system was already struggling with a back log of elective procedures, inadequate hospital buildings, regional differences in cancer care, and the growing burden of an aging and growing population.
This week Emma Russell wrote in the NZ Herald that nearly half a million Kiwis are believed to be receiving hospital care below the national standard due to a staggering backlog of planned care.
Back in April the Cancer Society asked for cancer care to be prioritised. In a Stuff article, Medical Director Dr Chris Jackson was reported as saying a three-month diagnostic delay could result in 400 additional cancer deaths.
In August, the Independent Cancer Control Agency released a report measuring the effect of lockdown on cancer diagnosis. It found that even though the majority of cancer treatments continued during lockdown, screening programmes were paused, diagnostic tests and outpatient clinics were scaled back.
This is no surprise. We know less people went to the GP, we read stories about people waiting for diagnostic and surgical procedures, and many of us know of someone whose treatment was been postponed even in the latest lockdown.
It is a great relief our hospitals are not filled with people suffering from Covid 19, but we are paying a huge price for this.
I have no doubt those in the frontline are working heroically to clear the backlog. But their efforts alone won’t be enough, especially when we know there are a few more rounds in the COVID battle to come.
We need far-sighted policy addressing the fundamental issues facing our health care system. We also need to know the system is robust enough to deal with whatever comes our way in the immediate future. We need to know that someone requiring life-changing or saving treatment will be able to access it.
Philippa Mercer, a general surgeon and chair of NZ National Board of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons this week called for the next government to oversee the development and implementation of a comprehensive health recovery plan that enables, for example, planned operations to continue where possible.
I couldn’t agree more.
The health initiatives – well, the three year ones – currently being released by the political parties focus on correcting the inequity and inequality of the system - dental care, mental health, the size of DHB’s, childcare, obesity, border management, and sick leave.
These are all really important, but even more important would be their their assurance our national health system is robust enough to deal with what is right around the corner, as well as the future.