A table for one?

After yesterday’s blog post about the lack of response from the Minister of Health to my written questions it was a nice surprise this morning to see my inbox brimming with responses. Well, sort of.

These responses would be funny if they weren’t so sad.

The first thing you need to know in order to understand the implications of these responses: the Public Health and Disability Act 2000 sets out that the National Health Committee must establish a committee called the Public Health Advisory Committee to provide independent advice to the Minister and to the National Health Committee.

I asked Tony Ryall, when the last meeting of this committee was – he said “30 November 2009 was the last meeting of the Public Health Advisory Committee before the establishment of new terms of reference for the National Health Committee.”

I then asked him who the current members of the committee are – he took a month to research that complex matter and found out that a Mrs Anne Kolbe is “presently the Chair and sole member of the Public Health Advisory Committee”. She also happens to be the Chair of the National Health Committee which is the body in charge of establishing the Public Health Advisory Committee.

One is the loneliest number.

In an Otago Daily Times piece recently Tony Ryall described the committee with this overstatement:

“The committee does exist, but it has not been very active.”

I agree, not very active at all! In fact it could not possibly have been less active. Mr. Ryall has elected not to appoint any members, allocate any Budget, or consider any work programme for the committee. He has let this committee languish because a true public health approach shows up the huge gaps in his work as Minister.

The Committee’s previous work included: New Zealand Evidence for Health Impacts of Transport; Improving Child Oral health and Reducing Child Health Inequalities; The Health of People and Communities – A Way Forward: Public Policy and the Economic Determinants of Health; The Effect of Environmental Factors on the Health of New Zealanders; Men and Health; An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Health Impact Assessment) with a practical how-to guide; Rethinking Urban Environments and Health (and a number of related publications); and The Best Start in Life: Achieving effective action on child health and wellbeing.

What Mr Ryall is missing as Minister is that pulling the focus back on public health is the only way we are going to ensure New Zealand will be a great place to grow up safe, happy and healthy.


About Kevin Hague 163 Articles

Green Party Member of Parliament

10 Comments Posted

  1. This reads like something by Lewis Carol…Alice down the Rabbit hole or the Red Queen. Surely the original remark was to ask how we can have a committee of one. Does that one act as chairperson and if she is of two minds which half has the casting vote?
    There has a been a sad cut in care of glue ear and strep throats, that lead to Rheumatic fever, over the past few years, money has been cut from those projects.

  2. photonz1 – I looked through Kevin’s post and the replies and I can’t see any mention of this committee being a subcommittee, so where did you get the idea that it was a subcommittee? And that doesn’t answer the question of how it can provide independent advice to the committee if it has the same member(s).


  3. Trevor – as it’s a subcommittee, surely it HAS TO BE the same people.

    Kevin – there will always be things that can be done better, and things that need more spent on them, but then with finite resources it’s a matter of pinching that money from somewhere else.

    Considering the financial constraints of the global financial crisis, the performance of the health sector has been very impressive recently.

    I can’t remember such a sustained period in the last decade or two or three with so few major health issues in the spotlight.

  4. How can the Public Health Advisory Committee provide independent advice to the National Health Committee if its only member is the chair of the National Health Committee? That doesn’t pass any test for independence that I know of!


  5. There are certainly some things that are being done better – immunisation is a good example, and I applaud the achievement. I would argue that much of the improvement has been the result of continued momentum from the previous Government, but there has also been genuine improvement in these few services at the expense of everything else. Overall funding for programmes to keep people well and prevent illness has decreased. For example, less money is being spent on obesity prevention, despite the now very well-established links between obesity and our most problematic chronic conditions.

  6. @photoNZ1 (it’s not Rob, is it?) — hmm, from my understanding, a DHB would be financially penalised if a certainly threshold of vaccinations was not achieved. So, that’s almost bribing DHBs to focus on that one issue. Doesn’t take into account some communities religious beliefs about vaccinations, which then leaves DBS disadvantaged. (I, personally, think all children should be vaccinated…) I would also question how effective these “new programs” are at targetting real need. Perhaps Kevin can illuminate that area?

  7. Kevin – my wife works in public health so we’ve watched huge improvements in recent years ; all sort of new programmes that didn’t exist a few years ago ; huge advances in vaccinations ; and an enormous effort (and expense) spent to reach at risk children who were previously “under the radar”.

    There can always be more done. But compared to five years ago, the improvement is vast.

  8. Kevin, when you say ‘missing’ in the last sentence, that’s an assumption.

    The corresponding questions are whether the Minister wants New Zealand to be a great place to grow up safe, happy and healthy; and is so, given that his plan is not committtee-advised public health, what it is.

  9. It doesn’t surprise me at all – she’s on the committee ex officio. Maybe I wasn’t clear in the post, but the point is that the Minister doesn’t have to appoint her, and he hasn’t appointed anyone else at all

  10. Kevin says “She also happens to be the Chair of the National Health Committee which is the body in charge of establishing the Public Health Advisory Committee.”:

    Why does that surprise you when the Public Health Advisory Committee is nothing more than a subcommittee of the National Health Committee?

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