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The framework announced this month as part of the health reform included 12 indicators based on the Government’s six priorities for health; improving child wellbeing, improving mental wellbeing, improving wellbeing through preventive measures, creating a strong and equitable public health system, better primary healthcare and a financially sustainable health system.
Progress in meeting them would be reported on every three months so issues could be addressed.
Criticism was raised by cancer care advocates, including Southland’s Melissa Vining, that the disease was not included. The Cancer Society was among them and last week wrote an open letter to the minister.
“We’re troubled by your comment that Cancer Society is “Off the Planet” for suggesting that the newly announced Health System Indicators should include a strong measure for patients with cancer ... we are hopeful that we have each misunderstood what the other is communicating.”
In a statement to the Otago Daily Times, Mr Little said the Government took cancer very seriously and to say otherwise was wrong.
His comment about the Cancer Society was about its reported claim that the Government was not monitoring cancer treatments, which was just plain wrong, he said.
“It was not a reflection on the excellent work the society does and which the Government appreciates.”
In the press release in which the indicators were announced, it said the indicators replaced the outdated and ineffective National Health Targets regime.
The targets are still reported on in district health board annual plans.
Mr Little explained in his statement to the ODT : “I want to be very clear about this — we are still measuring DHB performances against the targets. They haven’t disappeared.”
Those targets had been in place since 2007, and he said there was plenty of evidence they did not work. This included the existing target that 90% of patients with a high suspicion of cancer receive their first cancer treatment within 62 days of being referred. The most recent quarter’s national average figure was 85%.
“It was disappointing to see some media outlets reporting comments that appeared to confuse the role of indicators with targets,” he said.
There were many conditions affecting New Zealanders’ health, including heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancers, and the health system monitors them all.
“Health indicators do a different job. They tell us whether the health system overall is working to improve the health of all New Zealanders, and what we need to do to make it better."
He explained indicators were not set in stone; the system was flexible, and other indicators could and would be developed.
“The Ministry of Health is working with clinicians on this now, and the most productive thing people and organisations can do is talk to them.”