Health Minister David Clark stoically resists pleas to intervene in the nation-wide junior doctors’ strike, which has resulted in thousands of doctors downing tools – or stethoscopes – following failed negotiations with district health boards on employment conditions.
But he has announced rewards for volunteer health workers and he has responded to questions in Parliament about the impact the doctors’ is having on patients.
Whether Clark has a thorough appreciation of all the impacts – and/or will publicly reveal them if he does – is arguable, but according to RNZ:
“Approximately 38 percent of house officers and 72 percent of registrars have made themselves available for work this week,” he said.
“And DHBs are advising the public that if they need to attend hospital for acute or emergency medical treatment they should do so.”
Precise figures wouldn’t be known for some time, but Clark said he had been given an early indication of how many procedures had been deferred.
“I am advised that preliminary planning estimates are that 1513 elective procedures and 776 other procedures, such as elective angiography have been deferred,” he said.
“People are missing out on planned care as a result of the strike and that’s why I’m urging both DHBs and the RDA to make the most of facilitation to find a resolution urgently.”
According to Stuff, the health sector strikes have contributed to an unprecedented rise in surgery claims on private health insurance.
Health insurers, including Southern Cross Health Society, Accuro and AIA, had paid an unprecedented $1.32 billion in claims in the year to the end of March, said Roger Styles, chief executive of the Health Funds Association.
The rise in claims came during a period in which strike action by doctors had led to elective surgeries being cancelled.
Figures released to Stuff under the Official Information Act in February showed that during the first strike alone, January 15 to 17, more than 1000 appointments had to be delayed across Auckland’s three district health boards.
Members of the Resident Doctors Association on a picket line in Auckland City hospital said it was time the minister stepped in.
They were disappointed with Clark’s response to the RDA picketing his office.
One was quoted as saying:
“He put up a really disappointing poster that he was disappointed with the doctors, which is huge hypocrisy considering that we’re disappointed with him because he hasn’t stepped in at all.
“And it should be within his power to make the DHBs sort this out, we’ve been trying to sort this out for 12 months now and it’s just appalling that David Clark has been sitting on his hands.”
But the doctors don’t appreciate that Clark has plenty of other important stuff to keep him busy.
His workload last week – for example – included the announcement of the opening of nominations for the 2019 Minister of Health Volunteer Awards.
If the striking doctors were to accept no pay until their dispute is settled, but continue to look after their patients, they should qualify for one of these awards.
“Great work goes on every day by tens of thousands of volunteers across our health services, including hospitals, hospices and non-governmental organisations, from volunteer first responders through to cancer supporters,” David Clark says.
“Volunteering benefits patients and anyone using health services, and supports New Zealand’s wellbeing as a whole. Whether it’s helping someone get to their medical appointment, fundraising for resources to help make the patient experience more comfortable, or providing friendship for people who need it, volunteering can make such a big difference.
“Volunteering also improves equity in our health system by helping personalise services and making them easier to access.
“These people deserve our gratitude each and every day, but over the coming weeks we have the chance to offer special recognition of their generosity.
Individuals or teams of volunteers can be nominated for recognition.
“These awards are one way we can thank people who give up their time to make life better for others, while showcasing the many great initiatives that are making a real difference,” David Clark says.
More information about nominations and the awards, including past recipients, can be found HERE.
Nominations close on May 29.
The Awards will be presented during National Volunteer Week, June 16 – 22.
But whoa – we don’t want to be churlish, but one thing we don’t seem to be short of is reward systems for volunteers.
For example, Coastguard volunteers took out the top honours at the New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Awards recognising their years of dedication and commitment to saving lives.
These awards are presented each year at Parliament to recognise outstanding achievements and the courageous people involved in Search and Rescue in New Zealand.
Heather Moore, general manager at Volunteering Waikato, received a Queen’s Service Medal to recognise her contributions to communities. She is reported to have made a fantastic impact on volunteering in the Waikato region.
The same Honours List included several citations for the Queen’s Service Medal for voluntary services.
The annual Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards recognise and reward the valuable contribution made by volunteer groups across the Wellington region.
And so on.
Point of Order reckons the awards announced by Clark will be costing the taxpayer more than a few dollars, if only for the administration.
Those costs have not been included in the press statement.
Whether health volunteers expect to be recognised, and would stop doing their good deeds without the awards, is a moot point.