Debate on health sector changes needs full Simpson Report

Fundamental change is coming for the health sector. Combine the critique of the current model from the Health and Disability System Review panel with the huge sums of money in the Budget for Vote: Health and that much is clear.

That there already was a Health and Disability System Review in place shows an appetite for change. As several commentators have pointed out, one reason why Australia has been able to run a looser lockdown policy in response to COVID-19 is its superior health system. Ours, already creaking and groaning in ‘normal’ mode, needed a full lockdown of the population to protect it from being overwhelmed. There are lessons to learn, and as we review the COVID-19 response, we need to weave that strand into the fabric of reforms signalled in the interim report.

Let’s recap. In her introduction to its Interim Report, the review group’s chair, Heather Simpson, described a current model of ‘more and more medically qualified staff focused on treating illness, rather than promoting wellness’. That model is ineffective and unsustainable, she said. It is ‘a confusing monolith telling people what is good for them’ and it is ‘not performing equally with respect to all New Zealanders’.

Calling the Interim Report ‘a reality check’, Simpson said Phase Two of the review would include further consultation on ‘specific proposals’ intended to foster the ‘cohesive, collective and collaborative style needed’.

The Interim Report was released in September 2019, with the panel’s final recommendations due in March. It’s clear the final report has been completed; all the panel is waiting on is a request from the government that it be presented.

It made sense two months ago to not drop the report into a sector under immense strain. Thankfully, that time has passed and as we begin to review, we need to know what those ‘specific proposals’ are. Judging from the tenor of the Interim Report, they are likely to include positive changes that will widen the diversity of representation on district health boards and also put those receiving services more in control.

This is why it is time to release the full report of the Simpson Review and start the debate – after all, there’s a lot to talk about.

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