Just a few hours after I posted about Labour’s total lack of a health policy – KAZAAM! – a health policy magically appeared on the Labour08 site. I’m sure it was a coincidence…
I was going to get stuck into an item by item comparison between the National and the Labour policies, but the most obvious difference between them is they have an entirely different look and feel. I said earlier -when Labour had not released its policy – that National had a policy but Labour just had waffle. Unfortunately, after the release, I have not changed my opinion.
Tony Ryall has correctly pointed out that Labour’s health policy is totally uncosted. He also correctly mentions that nothing has stopped Labour doing any of this in the past nine years – and yet they are only proposing some things for the first time. The policy is also couched in vague, feel-good terms, with very little detail.
It is interesting to contrast the two policies (or sets of policies, rather). Labour’s policy is vague but very all-encompassing; covering most aspects of health. National’s policy is tightly focussed and well costed. It does not attempt to address all areas of health, just the areas National thinks are not working well such as elective surgery, maternity and staff retention.
There is barely a mention of the public health programs dearly loved by Labour. I suspect this is because this is an area Labour usually covers well. National will be likely to drop the more “nanny” type of interventions and retain the good (if somewhat excessive) vaccination programs, diabetes checks and the like.
There is also no mention of PHO funding except to say that some hospital-based treatments could be devolved to GPs and the funding for this will follow it. Cunliffe seized on this to intimate that GP fees and pharmacy subsidies were at risk, but there is absolutely no indication of this in National’s document. Key has subsequently reaffirmed the subsidies. Personally, I find this a pity, as the GP subsidy is one of the main reasons why the health budget has expanded with so little productivity gain. I would have thought that a better, more targeted subsidy would have been more cost-effective. I probably save $300 to $400 a year on health subsidies, but as it probably costs me $600-$700 in tax a year, I don’t consider that a particularly good deal!
Of course, if a subsequent Labour government stopped the health subsidies, it is very unlikely they would actually give the tax back…
In later posts I will compare parts of the two policies that match (retention of staff, maternity, and waiting lists). Then I will comment on the various bits that don’t match and see if we can get some comparisons anyway.
In closing this post, I just want to mention the most obvious feature of the Labour health policy. It is the word continue. In 11 documents the word appears 34 times. In some cases, the use is dishonest in that it indicates progress that has not yet been made – as in “Labour will continue to improve mental health services within the criminal justice system.” When have they improved mental health, in any measurable term, over the past nine years? In most cases, however, the use of the word simply gives the sense that Labour are not going to do anything new to improve health services for New Zealanders. Just more of the same.
Labour’s health policy has a broader, more encompassing vision than National’s, but it lacks the urgent feel of National’s targeted hotspots. National’s policy may not be all things to all men, but I suspect it will actually get things done.