MacDoctor on Labour and Health

MacDoctor nails it here:

If you were wondering why Labour spent so much extra money on Health without actually improving the health of New Zealanders, nor their access to services, puzzle no longer. Ruth Dyson reveals all. She is complaining that some of the health promotions that were dear to Labour’s heart have been cut or seriously curtained. Things like cancer “control”, heart promotions and the diabetes “get checked” programme. …

No, Ruth, these are NOT frontline services. They never were and they never will be. These are all Labour’s attempts at preventative health promotion and, as such, provide no health service at all. This is not to say that preventative health is necessarily useless, just that they are not frontline services. They are not delivering medicine, they are delivering social change. At least, they might be delivering this.

That is a great line – they are not delivering medicine, they are delivering social change.

That does not mean all public health activies are not worthwhile, but they are not the same thing as actually giving someone an operation, a prescription etc.

The biggest problem with all of these preventative health schemes is that no one appears to have bothered to examine whether they are making any difference. Labour’s attempt to monitor results of these campaigns (now removed from the health reporting list by National) were so wishy-washy and soft, that it was impossible to tell from the data whether they were successful. That does not seem like a good use of taxpayer dollars to me.

Take the diabetes programme “get checked”, for example. This programme, unlike most, actually has links to hard data like blood results, blood pressure readings and hospital admission rates for diabetes and diabetic complications. All the hard evidence shows that the programme has made virtually no difference to the quality of diabetic control.

Huge amounts have been spent on programmes that *might* improve health outcomes. But what data there is, is patchy.

Diabetics who normally don’t attend their regular check-ups don’t abscond because they can’t afford it, they don’t come in because they can’t be bothered. Diabetes is one of those diseases that kill you slowly, like high blood pressure (only worse). People don’t like to see the doctor unless they are sick. So they don’t. All that “get checked” does is make it cheaper for the people who would have regularly attended their doctors for diabetic monitoring. It is a subsidy for diabetics. Nothing more, nothing less.

More middle class welfare.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is just not something you want to fund at the expense of real frontline services like outpatient visits and elective surgery.

Which is what Tony Ryall is sensibly targeting.

Labour’s singular failure in health is their constant focus on what would be nice at the expense of focussing on what is truly needed.

Dead on target here.

Nobody is saying that heart prevention programmes are invariably a waste of time. We may demonstrate that they may be very useful indeed at reducing long-term heart disease. But it is not right that a dozen people should die because they can’t get heart surgery in time in order to fund a social intervention. Particularly one that does not have demonstrable benefits.

This is how Labour managed to double health spending but almost make no impact on waiting lists etc.

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