Monday, July 19, 2010

New Zealand Health Service Plummets in Ratings

New Zealand has moved from first to fifth place in international health rankings of seven countries, carried out by the Commonwealth Fund (click table above to enlarge)

The slide is  due mostly to issues of access, high costs preventing people from visiting doctors or filling prescriptions, safety and management of chronic illness and New Zealanders being the patients most likely to get an infection whilst in hospital. They were also in the bottom three for medication errors and being the victim of a medical mistake.

Interestingly, it was ranked last for the percentage of money spent on health administration and insurance. According to Stuff:
Labour health spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said the fall was “devastating”.
New Zealanders had worked hard to get an excellent healthcare system and were now “just watching [it] slip away”.
Government contracts held by district health boards for community-based management of chronic conditions had been cut around the country, she said.
The high infection rates were a surprise, but could be the flow-on effect of Government “penny pinching”.
It was disappointing New Zealanders were still struggling to access primary healthcare as it was crucial to early treatment and keeping people out of hospital, she said…”
Per head Australians spent US$3,357 on helathcare, Canadians US$3,895, Germans US$3,588, the Netherlands US$3,837 and Britons spent US$2,992 on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at US$2,454.

We can’t say that we are surprised by New Zealand’s poor showing and this is why:

New Zealand has a workforce crisis in its hospitals with specialist senior doctors being lost, there is also a shortage of cancer specialists, paediatric surgeons  and radiologists and when doctors and specialists speak out about their concerns over patient safety they are censured, most of them simply resign rather than take the flack for being a whistle blower.

The average medical student in New Zealand finishes training with a debt of $75,000, forcing many of them overseas soon after graduating. Australia is their most likely destination. But money isn’t the only factor making them leave. One study found that  just 25% of students believed they would be valued as employees by hospital management or the Government, something that affects their long term commitment to their country and has implications for specialist training.

261 people in Canterbury are waiting more than six months for cancer-detecting colonoscopies, raising alarm among doctors. In July 2009 the figure stood at 75 people. A private procedure costs £1,000.

The Health Ministry is allegedly among the worst performing government departments. According to a report card ranking state agencies and bosses excessive red tape, bureaucratic systems and ineffective consultation hampering  a number of government departments. It placed the Health Ministry bottom for value for money overall, and said it was “struggling“ and

“really confused, with too many sections not knowing what others are doing, and doing stuff without consultation in the affected communities.”

Disgust at the plight of one hospital -Hawera – has inspired a well-placed business analyst to blow the whistle on what he sees as millions of dollars worth of financial inefficiencies and loss at the deficit-plagued Taranaki District Health Board.

Paul Anwyll left his job as a business analyst at the TDHB’s Management of Information Unit…citing “weak leadership and poor management” as reasons in his letter of resignation. An experienced auditor, the Englishman said he had identified financial problems and loss but the TDHB had refused to consider his proposal of a test study that could potentially save them millions.”

Pharmac doesn’t allow New Zealanders to access new medicines for five to 10 years after they are widely used elsewhere in the world. It  waits until they are generic until they are widely used. The system keeps prices down for the Government but is criticised for restricting drug choices and delaying the arrival of some new medicines.

There was a 50% rise in complaints against pharmacists in the year to June 2009 , including 5 pharmacists who were convicted of crimes. Similar sounding and look-alike medications are ‘to blame’ for the rise. City Health Pharmacy in Palmerston North was fined $10,000 in 2008 after six drug dispensing mistakes in two years, including giving a two-year-old an anti-psychotic drug instead of cough medicine; it’s still in business. There is no compulsory bar-coding of drugs.

For a first hand account of what it’s like to work in New Zealand’s health service you may wish to read our Migrant Tale  “The Health Care System is Second Rate.” Written by a nurse with over 30 years experience, she talks about resistance to change and the wastage of thousands of dollars because there is no incentive to change things.

At the time nurses in Nelson were speaking out about horrific workloads that were causing many to resign. Nurses went public because of a lack of action when they raised their concerns with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and hospital managers.

For more read our Health and Death page on Wordpress.

One reader of the blog left the following comment for us a week ago, if health care in New Zealand matters to you you may wish to read Gareth Morgan’s book -see a report on it here
I would like to mention that gareth morgan has a book about the nz health care system that anyone migrating for the health care ought to read, seriously.
Health Cheque: The Truth about NZ’s Health System it is called
It’s a frank book that discusses the problems with the way they rationalise care in which he states a theory that the high quality of the doctors and nurses are the only thing holding the system together.
Yet New Zealand has the highest percent of migrant doctors in the OECD, a staggering 52%
says in the review this book that:
“The New Zealand health workforce is under pressure from a number of sources. In addition to those problems that are shared by other countries – such as an increase in the proportion of part-time workers due to the feminisation of the workforce, increased demand for health services, and the aging of the health workforce – New Zealand faces major challenges from the internationalisation of health workers. It has the highest percentage of migrant doctors among OECD countries (52 percent compared with an OECD average of 36 percent) and one of the highest for nurses (OECD, 2008). **It also has one of the highest rates of outward migration of health workers. Four years after graduating, around 25 percent of NZ trained doctors are no longer registered in New Zealand and the loss increases to around one third after 9 years.**”
The doctors and nurses seem to mostly be british people who are outdoorsy migrants, or locum americans taking a working vacation, or political or crime refugess who could not get into other countries such as oz or canada. The kiwis just bugger off out of their own country and people from countries where the native language is not English are often only offered less responsible positions, in caregiving and cleaning.
The National led government has recently announced that it will be putting further pressure on the health service by giving employers the authority to make workers obtain GP sickness certificates for a single day’s sick leave from work.
“General Practice New Zealand chairwoman Bev O’Keefe said the change could put pressure on medical centres.
“The issue for general practice is how we accommodate all those people who need to claim medical certificates because they will need to be seen and assessed which means they are going to impact on what is already the heavy workload of general practice. “One thing we are not happy to do is to furnish medical certificates without seeing people because that’s just hearsay.” Another issue was people may go to work ill.”
Today's posts - click here


  1. One thing that surprised me when I moved here was all the meningitis warnings posted everywhere. I have children & I was shocked. Turns out they were in the middle of a dozen years++ of an epidemic of meningococcal disease! Not part of their nation branding, was it. I associated this with Third World countries. Meningitis does not occur at anywhere near this frequency where I come from.

    This poor baby got meningitis in New Zealand and they are sending her away because her migrant mother is an overstayer - minus two legs and a few fingers, thanks New Zealand!:

    a well-known victim and poster child, poor sweetie:

    is there or is there not still an epidemic?:

    meningococcal B: New Zealand has had an epidemic of one particular strain of this disease which caused about 90 per cent of all meningococcal B disease occurrences, and 80 per cent of meningococcal disease occurrences overall, with its common complications of meningitis and septicaemia. Meningococcal is especially serious in the under fives, because even with hospitalisation, other serious complications can occur.

    much-touted Kiwi-developed vaccine results were published in medical journals, but how much effect are they actually having:


    Things are done differently here. Take a look at this discussion.


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