Health panel dead: Hague

A national public health committee that has not met for a couple of years has effectively been unlawfully disbanded, Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague says.

Health Minister Tony Ryall rejected the claim on a visit to Dunedin last week but acknowledged the Public Health Advisory Committee had not been very active, because more ''weighty tomes'' on public health matters were unnecessary.

Mr Hague said the committee provided independent advice on issues such as child health, oral health, prisoner health and rural health.

It had a legal status and was required to meet, Mr Hague said.

''It seems like a dead committee to me.''

The fact it had ceased functioning reflected a withdrawal of funding from public health initiatives under Mr Ryall's watch, Mr Hague said.

''New Zealand's public health efforts are being drastically diminished under this minister.

''I suspect he's chosen to disband it because he doesn't like advice about the socioeconomic determinants of health, and environmental determinants of health.''

Mr Hague, a former chairman of the committee, said it was able to take a deep and long-term view of health.

''It had the ability to rise above what was on the immediate radar screen of the minister and the ministry, who are obviously preoccupied with the here and now.''

It was unclear when the committee last met, but he believed it was more than two years ago. Mr Ryall rejected the criticism, and said the Government had a strong public health focus but preferred action to obtaining reports.

''The committee does exist, but it has not been very active.''

Mr Ryall said the committee would provide advice if required but he could not see the point of commissioning more ''endless committee reports''.

He said the Government implemented about 19 of 21 recommendations of the committee's last report, on child health, in 2010. This included introducing free after-hours medical care for children aged under 6.

''You can have strategies until they fall off the shelf. I think what patients want ... is action,'' Mr Ryall said.

Mr Hague said he had not seen evidence that 19 of the report's recommendations had been implemented, despite seeking the information through written questions to the minister.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

 

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