Clark critical of scheme

GP referral scheme in southern emergency departments is designed to skew ED waiting times to make Government health statistics look better, Dunedin North Labour MP David Clark says.

Dr Clark likened the situation to the recent revelation of the re-coding of about 700 burglaries in Counties Manukau, which had made the area's crime statistics look better. The six-hour wait target is one of six measures chosen by the Government to show how well the health service is functioning.

Results are widely publicised, the ED target putting health boards under intense pressure to shorten waiting times. From this week, ED nursing staff are due to refer up to 20 patients at Dunedin Hospital to GPs, providing vouchers to those who cannot afford it.

In response, Health Minister Tony Ryall said the ED target had been central to reducing waiting times and improving services.

''Dunedin Hospital ED has improved significantly in recent years.

''Ten weeks out from the election, I expect the public will see more shrill comments from Opposition MPs trying to get their names in the paper.''

Also rejecting the suggestion, health board patient services medical director Dick Bunton said the health board held itself to the highest standards.

''Everything we do is for the good of patients and the community.

''This is a misinterpretation of the trial, which is focused on improving patient care and access to health services.''

Dr Clark said the scheme was designed to ''skew figures to meet Government targets''.

''Southern DHB patients who can afford to visit their doctor before presenting at the emergency department are promised a fast track through the ED process.

''Those who go straight to the ED because they can't afford to visit their GP will now get sent off to their doctor with a voucher for a free visit. Effectively they're paid to go away.''

In the last quarterly targets published by the Government, Southern met the target for 93% of patients. A more recent update to a health board committee showing the May results revealed waits had become longer, and only 87% were treated within six hours.

The official target is 95% of patients treated or transferred in six hours.


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