The Government went on the attack over its elective surgery record when Health Minister Pete Hodgson gave a speech damning critics today.

Mr Hodgson gave his first major speech since taking on the portfolio six months ago at Victoria University saying it was time to inject reality into the debate over elective surgery.

"We've now had weeks of crisis-mongering on elective surgery," he said.

"It's been an impressive display from the friends of privatisation but it bears little resemblance to reality."

Elective surgery waiting lists have come under intense scrutiny after revelations that more than 8000 people waiting for an operation have been dumped off lists in the past year.

Last month Hawke's Bay District Health Board also said it was sending 1800 other patients waiting to see a specialist back to their general practitioner.

The system that only sees people put on a waiting list if their operation can be guaranteed in six months has come under criticism from both specialists and opposition MPs who say high demand means patients are having to be sicker and sicker to get an operation.

Mr Hodgson said critics were undermining confidence in public health.

"We need to be asking about their motivations and intentions. It's not enough to weave a web of anecdotes and numbers together to try to paint a 'crisis' -- we should be demanding that full-time critics at least try to engage with reality."

He also released figures that showed New Zealand's health system in a good light including:

* Total hospital discharges in New Zealand are 26 per cent higher than the OECD median -- behind France and the UK but ahead of Australia, the United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.

* Hip replacements increased by 24 per cent since the change of government.

* Knee replacements increased by 52 per cent.

* Cataract procedures were down but were to increase by 40 per cent over the next 2-1/2 years.

* Bypass grafts were down, but have been substantially replaced by a 75 per cent increase in angioplasties.

* Overall there were 106,000 elective surgical procedures in 2005 -- this figure excluded the growing number of surgical outpatient procedures.

"We need to continue to improve but we have reason to be confident in the overall state of elective surgery. I look forward to a growing appreciation of context and reality as our national discussion on electives continues."

Mr Hodgson outlined priorities for the upcoming financial year, saying there would be a focus on families.

"The central responsibility of our health system is to promote opportunity for all New Zealand families," he said.

Priorities were:

* Progress fighting chronic diseases which included a "major" focus on obesity prevention.

* Improving the health of young New Zealanders with initiatives to strengthen a range of child health services.

* Further implementation and entrenchment of the primary health care strategy and the population approach to health care.

* Improving aged care with particular attention to the growing number of New Zealanders who wished to remain in their homes for longer.

* Increasing the strategic focus on the development of the health workforce.

* Improving patient care through more "aggressive" implementation of the health information strategy.

* Providing more and better health services through increased cost-effectiveness in the sector.

"In addition I intend to continue to secure improvement across all elective services," Mr Hodgson said.

- NZPA