Thursday, May 28, 2020

Austerity threatens our lives again

Public health specialists perform a vital role protecting us from disease, and they've just literally saved tens of thousands of kiwi lives from the pandemic. But it turns out that they are grossly underfunded and understaffed, and the government isn't doing anything about it:

The number of doctors in public health units confronting the pandemic is in crisis, but there is no sign of a plan to fix the situation.

The funding for training registrars to become public health specialists is so limited applicants have had to be turned away.


Des Gorman led attempts to identify then fix the shortages while heading the Government's Health Workforce unit until last year (when the unit, having had its staff numbers chopped, was rolled up into the Ministry of Health).

"It was profoundly frustrating," Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at Auckland University, said.

"We had no support from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

"We had little or no support from the district health boards and we received quite strong opposition from some of the more established medical colleges because they quickly worked out that if more money was going to go to public health and palliative care, that might mean less money for them."

Artificial scarcity of funding due to government-imposed austerity is the key driver here. And it is directly threatening our ability to identify, track and contain epidemic disease - in other words, all our lives. While they've had a one-off funding bump due to the pandemic, long-term funding is still at austerity levels, $50 million below what it was a decade ago. And that is simply not good enough.