New Zealand: State Cuts Health Spending

“For Sale: WWI era hospital, do up and reap the rewards. Resort style location.”
By a health sector worker

The closure of Hamner Hospital, also called Queen Mary Hospital, is something the Labour party promised wouldn’t happen when it campaigned in 1999 against National’s closures of provincial hospitals. But under Labour capitalism is continuing to cut the health sector: spending cuts continue and privatisation rolls on. Do we need to prove it more clearly to you? Well then, if you need more evidence of spending cuts and privatisation, we need to “open the books”, and get all the real information out of the bureaucratic state machine – not the press releases of this Labour government. They won’t tell us the hidden truths – and they will be trying to hide (or justify) the spending cuts.

Open the books

The contractor is the District Health Board, the source of finances is the tax payer. It is public money and therefore public services. Ultimately, the funder is the taxpaying 'community' –actually ‘the workers’. On that basis we are entitled to transparency on contracting and the other details which go into the decision to award/renew or change a contract. The elected District Health Board members are supposed to have access to the details of contracts, etc. We should demand that they open the books. How else would we know if they were doing their job? We are as a class entitled to the information.

Community Dumping

Where funds saved from closures of hospital services are not put into providing community services, on the same scale, a cut to health spending has occurred! And a cut in health spending is a dumping of care responsibilities onto the community. In other words, the unpaid labour of workers as a class will go into meeting those healthcare needs, as best it can. What was paid for and provided to the working class as a “social wage” is cut and the previously socialised “work” becomes another unpaid burden on the working class.

When a hospital closes and replacement services are funded in local communities the trend is that they are cheaper, and use less skilled labour. Many of us in the health sector have observed newer residential programmes which have no qualified staff on site.

As "public servants" we health sector workers will piss our management off, when we speak out on concerns regarding the quality of healthcare available, and the consequences of District Health Board decisions. Too bad. The closure of Hamner is the closure of a residential treatment programme with an experienced and trained workforce. The consequence was immediately longer waiting lists at the surviving residential programmes. That will mean more harm occurs while people out of control with their alcohol or other drug use wait for a programme.

Health reforms

The Labour government’s token reform of the Health Sector was to bring back elected District Health Boards. These elections are a social democratic farce. The elections only reproduce capitalist class relations, with jobs for the ruling class and a few social democrats who cannot stop capitalism and cuts in the committee room. Worse still, the District Health Boards are dominated by bureaucrats from previous Health Funding Authorities, some of whom now working as consultants or as mangers within District Health Boards.

Those who receive public health services should have no confidence in the District Health Boards getting accurate information, or the administrative and funding arms of District Health Boards having the ability to do anything beyond trying to cut costs. We can pretty sure that at District Health Board level there is NO knowledge about the quality of services provided and little knowledge about the quantity, except in terms of the impact of services on bank balances.

District Health Board ignorance about services means that service providers could be rewarded with extra contracts for lying and overstating the quality of service which they provide. In fact the Ministry of Health has identified that sort of lying as a problem and is trying to find out if private providers of health services have been providing the services they are supposed to be. What a damning indictment of the ignorance of District Health Boards the Ministry of Health spends so much time praising!

Sold out

Hamner workers experienced the blunt force of capitalism with its substitution of market forces for human need. Canterbury District Health Board's ability to sell a piece of prime real estate means that this piece of real estate will no longer be available to the public health consumer – to you and me. That fact should be a shame to a Labour Government, but this government doesn't deserve the name Labour.

This government has organisationally and financially destroyed a “non-governmental” (so-called) health service provider. The end of Hamner leaves a section of the workforce without their entitlement of redundancy – that’s an open attack on some of the workers Labour claims to represent. The laid off workers are having to wait for receivers to decide if there is any money available to them.

Working class fight back

The capitalist class has no need to fight against cuts to the health sector. They can always afford to go private. They could fly overseas for treatment if they needed. Those who work in public health can stand up as the providers, and speak about the cuts to quality healthcare. Workers need to organise in their unions and obtain Multi-Employer Collective Agreements (MECA's) which provide them with greater protection as well as guarantees that any job losses will bring redundancy or the redeployment of laid off workers.

Weak unions have made the health sector workforce vulnerable, and wages and conditions have been lost. Adequate wages and conditions will do more to attract and retain a high quality workforce than professional bodies or the increased qualifications that big student loans bring.

A strong and organised union was needed at Hamner. It would have been able to invite all former clients, their families and staff to participate in direct action to occupy the site at Hamner, and/or disrupt the sale of the property. It might have been possible to force/shame all the bidders into silence, and/or to force/shame the government into purchasing it off the District Health Board.

Open the books. No cuts to healthcare
Redundancy or redeploy the workforce
Quality Healthcare –fully funded
Organise in the health sector unions
Occupy sites against closure or sell off

Hamner is a sign of things to come in the health sector. Since it’s not election year the Clark government has decided Kaitaia hospital will no longer provide emergency surgery after hours. But now, after a round of “community consultation” surgery is cut. More cuts are coming to a town near you. Fight back by rebuilding fighting unions!

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