Heather Roy

10 June 2018

The Labour government is clearly feeling sensitive to Opposition criticism about the number of reviews they have initiated since taking office in October.

The Prime Minister felt compelled this week to comment on criticism by National Party leader Simon Bridges that the number of reviews had reached 122, saying that the actual number is “38 reviews or working groups that involve external agencies and work beyond the normal business of Government.”

Bridges estimates the cost of the 122 reviews is $114 million while the Prime Minister says her 38 reviews are being done at a cost of $34.5 million. The fact that she has had someone in her office scrutinising the list, dividing it into normal Government business vs outside of normal business and adding up the cost means Labour is feeling vulnerable to criticism. It’s becoming clear that this won’t be a reforming government.

Reality dictates the matter comes down to how you define a Review. I would say that ‘normal government business’ is work and advice provided by government departments but a review is done by those working outside of the public service. The real number probably lies somewhere between 38 and 122, but arguments about the number distract from the real issues. Are there too many reviews going on? Are these delaying action desperately needed to improve services the public would benefit from receiving? Seven months into government, where is the action promised by Labour pre-election?

On the Newshub Nation show this weekend Health Minister Hon David Clark was questioned about his plans for the health sector. It’s fair to say that no-one is any the wiser from the discussion. There are four major reviews underway in health:

  1. A Ministerial Advisory Group on Health (with Terms of Reference) was announced on 5 December 2017
  2. Inquiry into Mental Health Services announced on 23 January 2018
  3. Waitangi Tribunal (WAI 2575) Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry was announced on 30 May 2018
  4. Review of the Health System (including the funding and running of DHBs and Primary Care) was announced on 29 May 2018.

The Minister wouldn’t be drawn on what he wanted to achieve or what his priorities are. Nothing will happen while the reviews are underway but the wide-spread review of the health system will not report back findings until January 2020. So, safe to say, there will be no significant change to health services in this term of government.

Before the election I outlined the areas I would have as priorities if I was a newly elected Minister of Health. My list still stands, and most of the areas of focus I believe the public is ready for action on are now under review.

Those needing mental health services are fed up with not being able to access them easily, and there is growing support for fewer DHBs that would deliver better health outcomes and better value for the taxpayer dollar – just two examples of what needs to be done.

A new government has a window of opportunity for bold action that the electorate will tolerate. My feeling is the time is now, but by 2020 the inequities and unfairness that already exist will work against the government if change isn’t looking likely. The government has already had 9 years in opposition to get its policy house in order. The Health clock is ticking …