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Little pins hopes on health reforms


Health Minister Andrew Little talks to reporters after being shouted down by striking healthcare workers during a protest rally at Parliament last year. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES


Health minister Andrew Little has defended the health system, despite growing staff shortages and long waiting times in Emergency Departments.

This was after the Wairarapa emergency department had half the number of nurses needed to provide life-preserving services on Sunday night.

Little was confident the new health authority Te Whatu Ora-Health NZ would address pressures, including staffing.

“I expect HNZ to be exploring all possible avenues to address system pressures so we have a health system that works better for patients and staff no matter where they live.”

He said 5500 doctors and nurses were added to the public health system in the last five years.

The government also made a record investment in this year’s Health Budget, and on July 1 it reformed the health system to help turn things around.

Te Whatu Ora-Health NZ chief executive Margie Apa acknowledged staffing levels in emergency departments.

“Te Whatu Ora is considering how nurses, who work over and above their typical weekly shifts, are compensated while staffing levels are under pressure.”

In response to inconsistency of overtime pay between hospitals, Apa said inconsistency was a legacy of the former DHB system.

“Currently, the employment contract allows for any additional hours to be paid as penal rates. How this is applied may vary from districts.

“It is these kinds of disparities and inconsistencies that the health reform we are undertaking is designed to standardise so there is national agreement on incentive payments.

“In the meantime, we are assessing what further steps can be taken to free up staff from other areas to support the ED rosters that are under strain.”

National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti said New Zealand’s emergency department wait times are the worst in at least a decade.

Wairarapa’s emergency department failed to see 23.8 per cent of patients within six hours in April this year.

Reti said since Labour came into Government, there was a marked decline in the proportion of people who go to the Emergency Department being seen within six hours.

“In the three months to the end of March, the proportion of people admitted, discharged or transferred from the Emergency Department within six hours of arriving fell to 78.5 per cent, the lowest in more than a decade.

“When ED waiting times are unbearable, people simply leave – sometimes with tragic consequences.

“Exhausted, hard-working ED staff see no support, hope, or plans in Andrew Little’s public statements. The Minister of Health urgently needs to refocus the $486 million being spent on health reforms towards relieving pressure in EDs.”

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