07 November 2008

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) calls on whoever forms the next government to take decisive action to rationalise New Zealand’s 21 District Health Boards.

"In a country with the same number of people as Melbourne, it makes no sense to divide our population up into 21 autonomous regions. This has led to inefficiencies in health care, and 'post code' health where the services available to people depend on where they live," said NZMA Chair Dr Peter Foley.

The new government needs to listen to the views of people such as visiting expert Carol Haraden, from the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement, who said this week that 21 DHBs would prove unsustainable. They cost too much money to run, at a time when funding and resources are limited. Many other countries, such as the United Kingdom, are rationalising their hospital services, she said.

"We call upon the next government to show decisive leadership in this area and not kowtow to parochial interests," Dr Foley said.

"For a country the size of New Zealand, having 21 autonomous DHBs leads to excessive administrative costs without added benefits."

"Having safe and effective health care for New Zealanders requires the prudent use of funding and resources. This must be a higher priority than continuing to prop up 21 separate administrative boards. It can be done without major disruption to services or people within the regions."

The current Government has provided recent momentum to encourage greater collaboration of services across neighbouring DHBs, and the National Party has policy that suggests a similar approach. Dr Haraden made it very clear that she felt such half-way measures would be inadequate, Dr Foley said.

However, neither of the major parties goes far enough in taking decisive action to rationalise the 21 DHBs, and reduce administration and duplication costs.