Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What National means for health

Thanks to constant underfunding, my local public hospital is now seeking corporate sponsorship. I can imagine it now: they could have the McDonald's heart-disease unit, the Tui Accident & Emergency room, and the British-American Tobacco cancer ward. Because that's why we have a public health system: so we can plaster the names of the companies who cause many of our health problems all over it.

Worse, the immediate financial pressure which has driven them to this comes from the government. Since the 80's, the government has charged bits of itself a "capital charge" to cover depreciation on capital assets (which are typically centrally funded; the charge theoretically allows them to buy a new asset at the end of its expected lifetime. You local crumbling school or hospital is an example of how the government reneges on its end of the bargain). A recent revaluation has increased the book value of the DHB's assets by $19 million, which means an extra $2.5 million a year on depreciation. Doing the maths, that means the government is demanding a 13% return on investment - or effectively replacing every hospital building and major medical instrument every 8 years. Somehow, I don't think they're doing that.

This makes an absolute mockery of the government's promise to focus more on frontline services. Instead, money is being ripped out of actual healthcare to keep the bean-counters happy, and my DHB is having to put out a begging bowl to make up the difference. Its just not good enough. And with English tightening the fiscal screws, we're only going to see more of this over the next few years.