Ministry told to cut conference

News that Health Minister Tony Ryall has ordered his ministry to cancel a conference next month of more than 300 health professionals has caused a mild case of hand-wringing in Wellington, particularly from the Opposition.

The Government made it clear before Christmas that it expected government departments to focus more on providing core services and that any frivolous spending would not be condoned.

The conference, planned by the ministry and the districts health boards, would have been the third such conference in five years.

It would have cost taxpayers $123,000 and been attended mainly by workers in the primary health care sector, such as general practitioners, nurses and pharmacists.

Mr Ryall was concerned district health boards were not only sponsoring the conference but were also paying for staff to attend.

Labour deputy leader and former health minister Annette King was dismayed the conference had been cancelled, saying it had been scrapped for political reasons, breaking a promise to listen to frontline health professionals.

She claimed it would have been a "perfect opportunity" for not only health professionals but also for the minister to learn from providers across the primary care sector.

Labour had made primary health care one of its top priorities when in government, Mrs King said.

That might be true, but making it a top priority did nothing for the thousands of people languishing on waiting lists, nor did it make it easier for children in Otago who benefited from grommet operations through the charity of health professionals before Christmas.

As much as many health professionals will not be able to bring themselves to admit it, they are, partially if not completely, public servants who rely on public money for part of or all of their income.

Mr Ryall, along with his colleagues, never hid his view that public servants needed to live up to the expectations of providing core public services.

Another conference run by the Royal College of General Practitioners is being held within weeks of the now cancelled conference.

Mr Ryall has also indicated the conference might be held later in the year, a better time for the Government's primary health care policies to be discussed.

Mr Ryall was an active Opposition spokesman on health.

He is sure to know plenty about primary health care in New Zealand without attending another conference.

Voters are probably happier having a health practitioner available when they are sick than buying Labour's line of protest about a cancelled conference.

-Political editor Dene Mackenzie is in Wellington this week.


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