Labours' promise to introduce a national bowel screening
programme is a case of pandering to public opinion, and could
have adverse consequences, Green Party health spokesman Kevin
The MP, who will host a public meeting about health in
Dunedin tonight, was commenting on Labour's election promise
announced in Dunedin recently about a national cancer
Mr Hague, who could be minister of health in a Labour-Green
government, supports Health Minister Tony Ryall's approach, a
four-year bowel screening pilot whose results will be
assessed at conclusion.
Some patient advocates oppose the long lead-in time, but Mr
Hague said it was needed to ensure any screening programme
was based on scientific evidence, and supported by an
He likened the promise to National's intervention in
Pharmac's processes several years ago to ensure breast cancer
drug Herceptin was funded.
''I was disappointed in Labour. They were announcing that
policy because they thought it would be popular, rather than
because they know it's the right thing to do.
''You have to be really careful with screening. There's
always a superficial appeal about the fact that you will pick
up cases that otherwise wouldn't have been picked up.''
The system was not providing enough colonoscopies now, and a
screening programme greatly increased demand for colonoscopy.
Mr Hague reserves his strongest criticism for Mr Ryall, who
he says has not addressed the type-2 diabetes epidemic,
instead focusing too much on short-term surgery targets.
The cost of treating diabetes would reach $2 billion annually
by 2021, he said, four times its current cost.
Mr Hague, who acknowledges he would ''love to be'' health
minister if possible, believes New Zealand needs to have a
public debate about how health is funded long-term.
Prevention was key to reducing spending, and rationing of
care played a part. Decisions were made about rationing
behind closed doors, he said, and the public needed to be
The top health job held huge challenges, and the one thing
that ''does keep me awake at night'' was worrying about the
effect of Mr Ryall not dealing with issues such as obesity.
Mr Ryall had cut spending on health promotion, citing an
unwillingness to enact ''nanny state'' measures that dictate
''The price tag for that nanny state rhetoric is a massive
price tag,'' Mr Hague said.
Healthy food guidelines in schools and hospitals must be
restored, as a starting point for greater awareness in
society, and in the food industry.
Mr Ryall was also not addressing the ''catastrophic waste of
resource'' in medical and nursing training apparent in the
shortage of jobs for new graduates.
It was poor planning, because New Zealand would face a
serious shortfall when older workers started to retire in
large numbers, he said.
Mr Hague, a former district health board chief executive, is
wary of health system upheaval, and gives the Government
credit for not embarking on large-scale restructuring of the
He also applauds Mr Ryall's announcement this week that
children with profound hearing loss would be eligible for two
cochlear implants, instead of one.
It was an example of the inevitable rising cost of health
caused by technological advance, he said.
Asked if a drop in the dollar's value occasioned by a
Green-Labour government would hit the cost of health
equipment sourced overseas, he confirmed it would further
pressure the budget.
''The extremely and historically unusually high New Zealand
dollar has meant that we've been cushioned from quite a lot
of the increased cost of that technology change.''
New Zealand needed the lower dollar for wider economic
reasons, but it would be a ''shock'' for the health system.
In a press release earlier this month, Labour leader David
Cunliffe said a bowel cancer screening programme was expected
to prevent 180 deaths each year.
• Mr Hague will host a public meeting at 7.30pm today at
Dunedin Community House.