Frustrated expert slams government

Professor Jim Mann.
Professor Jim Mann.
A Dunedin professor who is New Zealand's leading diabetes researcher has quit as chairman of a Ministry of Health advisory group and criticised the Government for its lack of action on the disease.

University of Otago Professor Jim Mann has spent the last 40 years of his life researching prevention strategies for diabetes.

He will be releasing figures next week at a World Diabetes Day seminar at Forsyth Barr Stadium that show the number of people on the verge of getting diabetes in New Zealand is close to or more than the 300,000 who already have it.

"It is just going to become more astronomical and in terms of prevention we do nothing."

He has stood down as chairman of the Ministry of Health Expert Advisory Group on Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in the hope that someone else will have more luck convincing politicians.

"I have chaired these committees since they first started, but I have now decided we should see if other people would be more effective.

"It is almost like you are sitting here looking at this disaster about to happen and not acting. I have been saying this for years and the minister [of health Tony Ryall] hates me," Prof Mann said.

The Government was not even sending a representative to a panel discussion at the event next Wednesday because Parliament is sitting at the same time, he said.

Government whip and Dunedin-based list MP Michael Woodhouse said no government had done more for diabetes than this one.

"We have made it a high priority. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes is one of our six main health priorities.

"It would be disappointing if someone with the reputation that Professor Mann has judges the Government's actions on whether or not the Government sends someone to this conference."

Prof Mann had been told that all National MPs were tied up on select committees on that particular day, he said.

"It had nothing to do with being too busy, it had nothing to do with not caring enough as Jim infers in his comments. Parliament is sitting, that's what we do. I don't have anyone to give on Wednesday."

In a speech to the National Diabetes Nurse Specialist symposium six weeks ago, Mr Ryall said the Government had introduced specialist diabetes nurses for each district health board and introduced a "Get Checked" programme.

Last year doctors prescribed 32,000 people with "green prescriptions" to help them get more active and it had introduced "food-free advertising zones" during popular children's television viewing times.

The Prime Minister's chief science adviser Peter Gluckman has also set out a diabetes prevention programme targeting pregnant mothers because there was evidence that obesity habits formed pre-birth.

"There is an opportunity to deliver our programmes in a different way and leverage other funding sources and resources to deliver nutrition advice and education support to mothers and newborns," Mr Ryall said.

Prof Mann said reducing heart disease and diabetes later in life by giving good maternal nutrition was "probably right", but still unproven.

"What about the rest of us?

"If you just concentrate on pregnancy and people that are not yet born you are writing everybody else off.

"Absolutely dumb policy but yet, that is what the Government has chosen to do," he said.

Exercise prescriptions were not enough and the Government needed "massive programmes" to deal with it, he said.


Add a Comment