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Deficit blowout another sign of district’s high health needs

Opinion Piece

A blowout in Hauora Tairawhiti’s projected deficit is another sign of how difficult it is to provide a good health service in an area like this that is geographically isolated with a small, widely dispersed population that is nearly half Maori — who, on average, have higher health needs.

The board heard the forecast deficit for its financial year has increased by $2 million in the past two months, rising to $3.5m. Although the hauora’s budget has increased by $8m to a new figure of $157m by next year, nearly half the new money is already taken up by the projected deficit.

It seems to have prompted a philosophical debate among the board, with some members defending the situation by referring to the higher levels of elective surgery performed — 117 percent of budget — and others concerned at the deficit.

Certainly getting more elective surgery done will be welcomed by the community, particularly the older section who live in dread of pain as they wait for things like hip surgery.

But the board has broken even only once in the past four or five years and seems likely to face another deficit in the coming one.

There are good reasons for this such as what chairman David Scott described as a “massive landslide” in the inter-district flow — the payment made to other hospitals for treatment of Tairawhiti residents. The hauora expects to pay out an additional $257,000 for this at the end of the year.

And as chief executive Jim Green rightly says, the board is dealing with the most health-compromised population in the country.

Unfortunately our population is too small to allow for the employment of resident clinicians such as cardiologists, but local people generally accept the need for a “trip to Waikato.”

Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman has warned the country’s district health boards that they are going to get squeezed financially.

Things are not going to get any easier for those embattled board members in the future as they try to get more bang for our buck.