18 January 2012

The new health targets announced today will assist in controlling chronic and preventable diseases, but the Government needs to broaden its focus.

NZMA Chair Dr Paul Ockelford said the Government’s health targets are commendable but the emphasis on targets and throughput measures is flawed.

“The health targets do not give a full picture of how our health system is performing because of the difficulty of linking these targets to information about patient and public health outcomes. We need to shift the focus from operational measures to an ‘end-game’ strategy, or in other words, defining what succeeding in health is really about.”

To be effective, health targets must also work in parallel to other strategies such as greater investment in addressing the social determinants of health, such as housing and education, that influence an individual’s health status. “If these are not addressed we will continue to have glaring health disparities in our communities and a high prevalence of preventable diseases that effect not only quality of life, but life expectancy.”

Internationally, similar concerns have been voiced by the World Medical Association that has warned the World Health Organisation’s recent recommendation to  develop targets for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases risks reducing health care to very limited technical provisions, ‘forgetting the all too important person and people-centred focus of public health care.’

Dr Ockelford says that New Zealand’s health targets are quite narrow and simplistic in scope and risk diluting the focus on population health and other crucial parts of the health sector, such as mental health and primary health care.