04 September 2013

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) welcomes Sir Peter’s Gluckman’s report on the role of evidence in policy formation and implementation.

“Too often we’ve seen the weight of often poorly informed public opinion take precedence over scientific evidence, to the detriment of public health – particularly the health of vulnerable groups,” says NZMA Chair Dr Mark Peterson.

“As Sir Peter notes in his report: ‘there have been too many examples where appealing to apparently confused science masks what is in fact an ideological’. We are currently seeing such a ‘debate’ on the issue of fluoridation of water supplies in some areas.

“The application of scientific knowledge and principles is fundamental to medical practice and the NZMA has long held that policies and strategies in the health sector and elsewhere should also be evidence-based.”

The NZMA supports the recommendations in the report, particularly in relation to developing standard protocols on obtaining expert scientific evidence; the appointment of a departmental science advisor in the Ministry of Health to coordinate the development and adoption of protocols and standards; making more funding available for research to assist policy formation; and providing greater transparency around the use of evidence-based data in decision making.

“Realigning the Government’s policy process toward a more systematic use of robust evidence will ensure sound, transparent decision making and allocation of resources,” says Dr Peterson.

“Rigorous evidence-based evaluation of policy programmes is also critical to improve accountability and ensure that new initiatives will actually deliver before they are rolled out.

“As Sir Peter acknowledges, using research-informed evidence in police advice can only strengthen political processes, which are about making difficult choices based on a range of complex options. The NZMA looks forward to seeing his recommendations put into practice.”