Advocate welcomes healthcare changes

Cancer care advocate Melissa Vining believes changes to the health system need to happen faster. Photo: Laura Smith

SOUTHERN cancer care advocate Melissa Vining is preparing to farewell another person close to her who has been failed by the healthcare system and says change cannot come fast enough.

Ms Vining’s late husband, Blair Vining, was responsible for New Zealand’s largest cancer petition.

Now, Ms Vining said a dear friend had been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was curable when it was first detected.

“And due to the unnecessary delays, she’s just been told she’s incurable,” Ms Vining said.

“That just breaks my heart, because Blair fought so hard to ensure that those waits didn’t happen to anyone else.”

Health Minister Andrew Little last week announced a raft of changes to the health system, including the scrapping of all 20 district health boards (DHBs) in favour of one national organisation, Health New Zealand, by July next year.

It was a gratifying acknowledgement of the disparity of healthcare New Zealanders received based on where they lived, Ms Vining said.

But change needed to happen faster, and more people would die during the transition, she said.

“We’ve got people in our region, now, dying because of these waits, and there was nothing to suggest that there was going to be any immediate relief for these people and their families.”

Ending the bureaucracy of having 20 different chief executives for 20 different DHBs was welcome.

“I think that’s a big part of why, for us in Southern, we get such a short end of the stick compared to the rest of the country.”

In Lumsden, after losing a battle to stop a maternity downgrade, Gemma Sloane said she was on the fence about the reforms.

The Northern Southland Medical Trust member said she personally held fears that, with a more centralised system, rural areas with low populations might have less of a say in their healthcare.

But if there was to be an investment in primary healthcare, it would be better late than never.

University of Otago general practice and rural health department head Carol Atmore said the reforms had the potential to “strengthen the voice of rural communities”.

Critical to the success of the new system would be the amount of funding diverted into primary care, Dr Atmore said.

“There are very willing people in primary and community services, who are working really hard, but they’re actually being asked to do more than they have got the resources to do.

“As services are being shifted out of hospital and into communities the funding needs to follow so the services can be provided.”