Health Minister Tony Ryall’s first policy will be to impose maximum waiting times for hospital emergency departments. No word on extra funding for achieving those goals (the UK achievement in shortening waiting times that Ryall cites came with large health budget increases) or what will happen if they are not met.
Now, it’s great to shorten wait lists. Nobody, least of all the medical professionals, wants people to have to wait any longer than necessary and DHBs are continuously implementing new procedures to make gradual improvements across the range of their activities. But let’s be clear, Ryall’s policy is not a plan to shorten waiting times, it is just a demand that waiting times be shortened. Ryall used to spend most of his time making similar demands to health ministers but, now he is health minister, he’s not developing ways to shorten wait times, he’s just shifted who he is demanding results from. And what will he do if they don’t meet his demands? Will he cut funding? How will that make health providers more able to meet the medical needs of Kiwis?
We have a reasonable expectation that, after years of complaining, National/ACT will improve health outcomes even more than they improved under the Labour-led Governments. It is looking distressingly like Ryall has no plan to meet those expectations, and is already looking for someone else to blame.
But perhaps that is the long game. The word around town is that Ryall has one clear, overriding objective in the health portfolio – cut spending. A failure to meet targets will be just the excuse he needs.