Health Minister plans more ED security before Christmas

National's Health Spokesperson Shane Reti says the new medical school would offer a different...
Health Minister Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ
New Health Minister Dr Shane Reti is promising beefed-up security at the country’s 20 core emergency departments in time for the Christmas and New Year period.

The policy is just one in a long list of health policies within National’s 100-day plan that survived coalition negotiations with Act and NZ First.

Others will take a bit longer, including scrapping the Māori Health Authority (MHA), which requires a legislation change, along with implementing specific performance health targets that require more data to be gathered to establish baselines.

But Reti, who has been receiving briefings from officials since being sworn in on Monday, says work on all of their policies is already under way.

“If there is any surprise at this point [based on the briefings] it is that the sector was ready, they were prepared, they saw what we took to the campaign and we can hit the ground running.”

One of the 100-day plan policies was to improve security at EDs, and Reti said the government would get it done before Christmas.

Data from Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand showed there were 7125 assaults against public health employees recorded between April 2021 and April 2023. While those figures covered not just EDs but all hospital services, EDs are among the departments with the highest rates of violence and aggression.

Ahead of the election, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) called for security guards to be posted around the clock in every ED, to address what they called a “national crisis” around staff safety that was causing an exodus of medical workers and putting patients at risk of serious harm.

“Christmas and New Year ... that’s a time EDs are getting hammered, and a lot of drunk folk are turning up,” Reti said.

He said he couldn’t give any specific numbers at this point but the 20 main EDs would be the initial focus, with a triage mechanism focused on areas with greatest need.

“So that is one of the ones that will kick off early,” he said.

Other policies in the 100-day plan, which will end in March next year, include setting five major targets for the health system, including for the surgical waitlist, faster cancer treatment, ED wait times and immunisation rates at two years.

Te Whatu Ora is still unable to produce up-to-date national health data, but the most recent available figures show nearly all key indicators – including immunisation, wait lists and cancer treatment – heading in the wrong direction or flat-lining. The government claims at least one of those indicators – people waiting over a year for surgery – is now improving.

Reti said the latest data for the quarter to September was yet to be released but he was told it was not positive.

He said the question would then be whether to start the baseline from there or wait until the following quarter, when the new Government had been properly established.

Repealing the Māori Health Authority would require legislation, as would extending free breast cancer screening for those aged up to 74 years.

Reti said their plan was to replace the MHA with a Māori health directorate within the health ministry. National would also reduce the powers of influential iwi-Māori partnership boards, which have a say on local healthcare plans.

“We’d been out in the sector beforehand. And we come to this with a view of vision and a dream. And now we’re looking to see how it all fits together.”

The only alteration to the plan through negotiations was an agreement with Act for a business case for the new medical school at the University of Waikato.

Reti said he had no problem with that and they would look to sign a memorandum of understanding as part of the 100-day plan.

Other health policies to come through negotiations include the commitment to reintroduce $5 prescription fees, except for people with Community Services cards or aged over 65. The spending saved from that will be used to give $280 million to Pharmac over four years to fund 13 new cancer drugs.