If the 20 new elective surgery theatres Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced were going to be funded with new money, I would say ‘sounds good, let’s hope we can get the staff’. But Ryall is taking the money out of the existing budget and, so, I have a couple of issues to raise.
Ryall continually says ‘the health budget has doubled in the last decade but elective surgery has not kept up with population growth’. If you’re going to adjust for population growth, have the honesty to adjust for inflation too. Around half of the budget increase each year is just match the very high inflation in the health sector. Anyway, the way Ryall frames the issue, you would think that elective surgery is all the health budget is spent on. In fact, it’s just one small part. And the need for many elective surgeries can be avoided by effective primary health care, which is where Labour concentrated new investment. Just because there aren’t more elective surgeries being done doesn’t mean the health of the population isn’t being improved.
So, why Ryall’s obsession with elective surgery? It’s not unimportant but is it really the overriding priority? Since the money for these elective surgery super-clinics will come out of existing funds, something else will have to be cut to fund them, what will it be? Cancer treatment, emergency care, primary health? Where are the 800 new staff for these elective surgery theatres going to come from? What other specialities will lose as a result?