An opportunity lost - prof

Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan
The recent controversy over the future of neurosurgery services in Otago-Southland highlights the need to make systematic "health impact assessments" before key policy decisions are made, University of Otago Prof Richard Morgan says.

Prof Morgan, of the Otago geography department, chairs the organising group for a three-day international conference devoted to health impact assessments, which ends at the university today.

This is the first time the Asia and Pacific Regional Health Impact Assessment Conference has been held in New Zealand.

Prof Morgan said health impact assessments (HIA) had a positive role to play in "working smarter" in relation to proposed policy decisions, by providing a clearer picture of initial health impact and other effects of decisions, including on disadvantaged groups in society.

Assessing proposed policy options for their direct and indirect health impacts meant money would be spent more cost-effectively and other benefits maximised, he said.

It was to the credit of the South Island Neurosurgical Service expert panel, chaired by Anne Kolbe, that it had insisted on consulting the Otago-Southland community, as well as talking to health administrators and boards.

But there had been "an opportunity lost" for a full HIA to have been prepared before the final decision, providing information which the public would also have found helpful.

The panel had considered issues such as transport and hospital bed availability, but a full impact assessment would have also highlighted other issues facing rural people in Otago-Southland, he said.

The conference has been organised in association with the university Health, Wellbeing and Equity Impact Assessment Unit.

Participants include Associate Prof Louise Signal, a co-director of the unit.

After South Island health boards earlier could not agree on the configuration of the future regional neurosurgery service, the panel released its report last week, rejecting a Canterbury proposal to have all six neurosurgeons living in Christchurch, and opting for at least three to be based in Dunedin.

About 100 people from about 20 countries are attending the conference.


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