by Kevin Hague
A crucial part of the role of any Minister is to know what is happening in their area of responsibility.
It seems that Tony Ryall, however, is taking a ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach to being the Minister of Health.
My previous blog posts on what Tony Ryall doesn’t want to answer and what Tony Ryall doesn’t want to do and what Tony Ryall doesn’t want to spend didn’t quite capture the whole frustrations of trying to hold a Minister to account when he so doesn’t want to be.
I thought it would be good to put together a list of things that we have asked the Minister about that he doesn’t know the answer to. As you will see, some of them are pretty crucial to our health system.
What the Minister won’t answer:
- My letter to him on total obesity funding and whether or not he mislead the House when he said that “we announced a $35.5 million boost of new funding over 4 years for New Zealanders with or at risk of developing diabetes, pre-diabetes, and heart disease. This is in addition to the other funding that the Government invests in initiatives to encourage New Zealanders to make healthy changes to their lifestyles.” We think this $35.5 million is part of the existing funding, not new at all.
- My correspondence with his office on the issue of collecting doctor vacancy rates and why he doesn’t do so.
- My written questions on what advice he received or sought on various aspects of the Very Low Cost Access scheme. He said “I am kept appraised of the progress of the VLCA scheme in briefings, as appropriate” – which is not exactly an illuminating answer, but one he stuck to under further questioning.
Things the Minister hasn’t sought advice on.
- The current treatment costs of diabetes.
- The effectiveness of his approach to preventing diabetes (This is despite the fact that he said in the House that he is investing the exact rational amount into diabetes and prevention initiatives).
- The projected economic costs of diabetes.
Things the Minister has no opinion on or plans to do:
- The range of projected costs for diabetes.
- The publication of Amenable Mortality rates by District Health Board.
- The next (or any) meeting of the Public Health Advisory Committee, which legislation says the Minister has to have but that has not had a meeting for 4 years and only has one member.
Things which are awfully convenient for the Minister and Ministry not to know:
- The annual treatment costs of diabetes or the per patient costs.
- Any diabetes population, or death projections.
- Information about all sources of funding for GP practices and their current deficits, even though the Minister has talked to the media about the pressure on these clinics.
- How many GP practices or their services will be saved by the Minister’s seemingly arbitrary funding allocation.
- The risk of readmission to hospital by age group, in light of our aging population and the high healthcare needs of children in poverty.
- The reasons people get readmitted to hospital (many of which will be preventable).
- The projected pressure on hospital beds of our aging population.
- Whether the new nurses and doctors he claims to have supplied since 2008 were trained in New Zealand or overseas.
- The average case weight (difficulty of the operation) of people on the National Booking Reporting System waiting for surgery or discharged without an operation. This would demonstrate whether or not patients with harder operations are waiting longer at the expense of more operations.
At least he’s pretty consistent with his non-answering. Jan Logie’s questions on the review of standards for doctors’ behaviour in the light of sexual offending against patients got a similar brush off.
It’s impossible to capture in a concise way the extent of Ryall’s obfuscation as the Minister of Health. But his responses here do paint a picture of a Minister who cares more about the politics of health statistics than he does about the actual people which those statistics represent.