• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister


Chairman Terry Harris and other members of the South Auckland Health board and executive, Parliamentary colleagues, Mayor Barry Curtis, distinguished guests, Councillors, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the invitation to help celebrate the opening of the Manukau SuperClinic.

This facility and the Botany Downs SuperClinic in the Howick area, which opened in July, are symbols of an innovative new era in modern healthcare.

The SuperClinics are about Government and communities working together to give better frontline healthcare for all our people. Providing local solutions for local problems.

Too often in the past politicians and officials have organised funding and services in a way that was better for them than for patients and communities.

But the needs of patients should always come first.

South Auckland Health has responded to changing patient needs and the demands of a dynamic health system with its SuperClinics.

They are a first in New Zealand, bringing together public and private health professionals under the one roof.

At Botany Downs there is a private 24 hour Accident and Medical Clinic, as well as pharmaceutical, radiology and laboratory services.

The fact that public and private organisations are working together is no great revelation. The New Zealand public health system has always relied on private health professionals to provide public services.

Most New Zealanders get their health needs from the private sector, namely their GP and chemist.

We must stop the nonsense that seeks to portray public healthcare as good and private healthcare as wrong.

Only when we confront the reality of the benefits of integrated healthcare, including that provided by GPs, pharmacies, Plunket and Maori healthcare organisations, will we the community get the best possible care.

What is important here is that the SuperClinic encourages health professionals to cooperate and communicate. It emphasises outpatient and community care, shortens waiting times and cares for patients in a way which reduces their number of return visits.

The SuperClinic is also at the forefront of providing patients with the latest advances in medical science and technology.

There is an ever increasing range of operations which can safely be performed as day surgery. In two years time South Auckland Health expects that 60 per cent of its elective surgery will be day surgery.

That is not just an impressive statistic. It is also good for patients.

Day surgery is usually less invasive and patients can return home to recover faster.

This is what healthcare should be about.

Recently there has been a lot of comment in the media on the state of our health system and a fixation on the place of bricks and mortar in providing healthcare services.

We are seeing some changes to small and provincial hospitals but these changes are necessary if we are to deliver the best possible healthcare in a modern health system.

Many of our smaller hospitals have been overtaken by new technology, new treatments and new methods of healthcare delivery.

It is our responsibility to invest in the new, and likewise we have a responsibility to change the old if that is necessary.

But we want to be wise spenders not big spenders.

We want to direct our health dollars in ways that meet the needs of patients and a growing and ageing population in a modern health system.

The media have a field day whenever changes are made in the way services are delivered, especially if it means reducing the size of an existing hospital.

I am waiting for some commentator or editorial writer to acknowledge the truly dramatic changes that technology has introduced to the media, as news pours in from around the world by satellite direct to our homes.

That same explosion in technology is affecting the delivery of healthcare.

Let me just say bigger hospitals are not necessarily better hospitals.

There are many ways that we can provide better healthcare services outside the traditional hospital environment.

This new SuperClinic is an example of why old systems must change.

Instead of increasing the size of the hospital we are increasing the availability and number of services. With better results for patients. That is what I care about.

Governments around the world are criticised for not spending enough on healthcare.

Here in New Zealand we are spending more than ever before on health.

Funding for the 1997-98 year is $5.8 billion, including GST, with almost $1.7 billion in new funding over three years.

Of that, $70 million a year is going to fund free doctor visits for all New Zealand kids under six years of age. That is a significant step towards improving child health and access to services.

A further $7 million a year is being spent on removing hospital charges and $44 million to changing income and asset testing rules.

Last year more than $250 million was invested by hospitals on everything from new operating theatres and modern equipment to community-based facilities like this.

We are also doing more operations than ever before.

In 1996-97, Crown Health Enterprises treated 8.8 per cent more people than they did three years ago.

In the last year, hospitals did four per cent more non-acute surgery than the year before.

We are also dealing with more and more complex cases in our hospitals as medical science becomes more and more sophisticated.

There are operations being done today that people ten years ago could only dream about. That is progress.

I know that people are concerned about waiting lists and we still need to do more for the people waiting for non-urgent surgery.

To that end the Government is determined to have a booking system in place throughout the country for non-urgent surgery by July next year.

The booking system will provide certainty and fairness for everyone waiting for non-urgent surgery.

One of the legitimate concerns of the public at a time when the public health system is being changed and modernised, is the feeling of uncertainty.

The only way to reduce that is for the political grandstanding to stop, the shouting to subside, and for all involved to calmly talk the issues through.

Let me quote some remarks:

"Barriers between GPs, social services and hospitals must be broken down.

Hospitals cannot stand still. Increasingly, general hospitals will provide routine care, supported by specialist centres of excellence in treatment, research and education.

GPs and nurses will do more of what hospitals used to do, often working on the same site in partnership with chemists, dentists, opticians and physiotherapists.

New technology offers huge opportunities in healthcare but we haven't yet begun to seize them properly.

We will get the money in. But in return, I want reform."

Those remarks are not from a Treasury Paper but from British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking to his Party conference last week.

The New Zealand Government wants to work with health professionals and their representatives to deliver modern healthcare.

The health budget has grown but it will never be unlimited.

So choices on the method and amount of healthcare the taxpayer can deliver will be an issue of ongoing discussion.

New Zealanders will receive better service with greater integration of the public and private sector.

Let me repeat that most families get their publicly-funded healthcare from the private sector through GPs, chemists, midwives, specialists and physiotherapists.

This Government is committed to providing a flexible, modern, properly funded, accessible health service.

One that meets changing needs and public expectations.

Manukau SuperClinic is an example of what can be achieved with vision and planning.

I look forward to seeing similar initiatives in the future, as hospitals seek new and innovative ways to provide healthcare to the community.

Congratulations to Manukau SuperClinic and South Auckland Health and thank you once again for the invitation to be here.