Liberty and Medicine

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Zealand's nationalized care spends more, cares less.

New Zealand has one of the pioneering nationalized health services in the world. But, as with all nationalized systems, they ration health care out. There is no other option. Free health care for all is an illusion.

New Zealand uses the standard form of rationing: queues. You can have health care if you can afford to wait for it. If your problem kills you before you get to the front of line that improves the waiting time statistics. Lots of Kiwi voters were unhappy with the growing wait periods. And, in the last election, the ruling Labour government was in deep trouble.

A massive spend-up on programs, along with hundreds of thousands in illegal campaign spending, kept Labour in office but barely.

One of the parts of the massive spend-up was an extra $4.5 billion was on health care. But, Heather Roy, health spokesman for the ACT Party, says that a report from the Treasury department shows that the extra spending has lead to no extra health care!

She quotes a Treasury report, “increased staff numbers have not led to higher outputs.” So, why is that? If the health services can’t handle the care required, and you increase staffing, shouldn’t the number of patients treated also increase? You would think so. But, it really depends on who you hire, and what they do.

Roy noted that while some of the extra $4.5 billion was spent on staff it didn’t pay for “doctors and nurses”. Instead, “the new staff has largely been made up of pen-pushers -- staffing levels at the Ministry of Health’s head office has increased by around 40 percent under this government...”

So, the extra staffing covered management and file shufflers, but not more health care. The government now has more people filing more pieces of paper, but no extra medical care. In fact, with the expansion of clerical staff, the nationalized system, in New Zealand, now has more staff members than hospital beds. As Roy put it, “if every single bureaucrat in the health system fell seriously ill today, there wouldn’t be enough beds to treat them all -- let along anyone else.”

Because the waiting lists were getting embarrassingly long the Labour government came up with an idea to solve the problem. They ordered the district health boards to kick people off the waiting lists. Roy says a document leaked from the Waitemata DHB showed they had been threatened with a $3 million penalty if they didn’t remove 800 people from their waiting lists. They were told to send the patients, waiting for care, back to their physicians instead, even though the physicians were the ones who sent them for specialist care in the first place.

Of course, if Michael Moore made a film on the nationalized system in New Zealand, it would only show empty waiting rooms and pretend none of this was happening. He wouldn't tell people the waiting rooms were empty because the patients were sent back to their physicians so they could start the process all over again.

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