Health has an insatiable and growing appetite.
Inflation in costs in the health sector outpaces that in the economy as a whole. Improvements in life expectancy, medical science and technology all add to costs.
In spite of that the heat had gone out of health as an issue in 1999 which left the incoming Labour government with a choice: improve services or change the system.
Instead of extensive improvements to services they chose expensive changes to the system based on ideology rather than best practice.
The result has been a lot more money spent on health with little to show for it.
National has been very cautious about changing the system when the health sector is suffering from restructure fatigue but Minister of Health Tony Ryall has given a very clear message that more money needs to go to frontline services.
Speaking on the release of the Ministerial Review Group’s report on health, he said:
“‘Meeting the Challenge’ is a comprehensive report, with 170 recommendations on how to reduce bureaucracy, improve frontline health services, and improve value in the public health and disability sector,” Mr Ryall says.
“The Ministerial Review Group included some of the leading clinicians and managers in the health sector. Many of their recommendations have been well discussed in the sector already.”
“The report recognises that to improve frontline services we need more input from frontline staff, and there are recommendations to strengthen clinical leadership and clinical networks.”
The report proposes consolidating back office functions across the 21 District Health Boards (DHBs) to harness the power of bulk purchasing. It also proposes reducing the number of committees that advise the Ministry of Health from 157 to 54.
He also says the report requires careful consideration; and that the government isn’t interested in recommendations which increase bureaucracy or don’t improve services.
“We made a commitment before the election that DHBs would not be forcibly amalgamated because of the disruption it would cause frontline staff and services. The recommendations focus on reducing duplicated back-office bureaucracy, while ensuring minimal disruption in the wider health and disability sector.”
“We want reduced health bureaucracy with greater focus on delivering more frontline services for patients.”
“It is worth remembering that any saving in health will be reinvested in health – we are not cutting health spending. In fact DHBs have more money to spend this year than ever before on improving front line health services to patients.”
The last point is an important one. The aim isn’t to spend less on health, it’s to spend more where it makes a difference.
Links to the MRG’s report and five annexes are at the bottom of the page linked to above.
The MRG’s recommendations are here.