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Talking about health care changes

In a show of support while East Coast MP Kiri Allan is treated for stage 3 cervical cancer, Labour MPs from around the country are stopping by Gisborne to spend time in the region.

Invercargill's Labour MP Liz Craig, who is also a doctor, visited Huringa Pai/Healthy Whanau Living and Amber Dental to connect with local organisations.

Dr Craig said coming to Gisborne was a good opportunity for her to get a sense of what is happening on the ground as the changes to the health system are made over the next few years.

“I'm a public health doctor by training and I got involved in politics through child health advocacy,” she said.

Dr Craig set up a research unit and worked on child poverty monitoring throughout New Zealand before getting involved in politics.

The health care changes aim to centralise bureaucracy by replacing the 20 DHBs with four, producing better health care overall by not restricting medical procedures — such as critical operations — to DHB borders, she said.

“By bringing the 20 DHBs into one entity called Health New Zealand we will look at how we deliver health care consistently across the country.”

Dr Craig said the DHB system has meant citizens have been forced to deal with a “postcode lottery,” meaning the quality of one's healthcare was determined by which DHB they are based in.

“What we're trying to do is have a much more strategic approach so we have consistency.”

A concern for regions like Gisborne is then a lack of a local voice but Dr Craig said the Government was aware of this factor.

“The issue is, you always have to have local people having a local say in what happens.

“At the community level, we want to make it a much more integrated approach.

“What we have to think about is how we link everything up better so that people can actually have really affordable healthcare.

“Things will be very similar — you'll still see your GP, you'll still go to the hospital that you need to.”

Although the system restructure will take years, Dr Craig said the Maori Health Authority, which looks at strategic planning and operations, will gradually start up by the end of this year.

A continued problem with the health sector is staffing.

A recent column in The Herald by a local nurse said they were overworked, burnt out and exhausted.

Nurses voted last week to go on an eight-hour strike around the country on June 9.

Asked if these changes to health care will help give nurses better working conditions, Dr Craig said the centralised system will be more strategic at “whole workforce planning”.

Trish Riki, who is Kiri Allan's parliamentary supporter, said the support from the Labour Party has been great.

More MPs will be coming through Gisborne while Ms Allan is on medical leave.

Dr Craig is the chair of Parliament's Select Committee on Health.

DR MEETS DENTIST: Invercargill's Labour MP Liz Craig (left) stopped by at Amber Dental to talk to the team about healthcare in the region. She is pictured with owner Nitish Surathu, Victoria Lim and Sujatha Mathew. Picture by Paul Rickard