I have always strongly backed our district health board and continue to do so. Our DHB stands up for us and fights our corner with government.
I saw this up close when Pharmac kept secret the 20,000 Pfizer meningitis vaccines that would have vaccinated all Northland children. Northland DHB made strong representation and even gave me some staff to help with the privately funded, Rotary/Lions/iwi/community facilitated meningitis vaccination project which we did at low-decile Hikurangi Primary School.
I only wish we could have vaccinated more children at more schools.
When I was a new DHB board member back in 2001, one of our first tasks was to do a needs analysis so we could really focus on Northland's needs. This supports a theme where Northlanders know best what Northland requires, and for me now as a list MP based in Whangārei, this continues to be true.
The new Minister of Health has stated that recommendations from the Simpson reforms, some of which I support, will now be hastened over a period of two to three years, however, one of the key recommendations is to consolidate DHBs down to eight to 12 in number.
I made the following observations on this in the House in my first speech of the new Parliament last week, namely that:
"When DHBs are merged the local voice is diminished. This has been done before and while reinventing the wheel sometimes brings back the best it usually reinvents the bad. Those of us who have worked under RHAs [Regional Health Authorities] will remember how consolidation tramples the voice of the regions, which are simply lost in the challenges of the cities."
I also commented on concerns for not only on the DHBs that will go, but the mega DHBs that will be created, and asked how nimble and flexible a mega DHB can be, how many jobs will be lost and how much money will be spent on new layers of bureaucracy?
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Our role as Northland representatives in Wellington is to make sure Northland receives fair and equitable health funding.
Equity of funding for Northland needs to take into account several unique features, including the fact we have one of the highest measures of rurality, a high burden of disease, a high proportion of Māori, and importantly we are the fastest-growing region with an increasing population and demographic that increasingly consumes health services.
I think some functions of DHBs can be consolidated and to some level this already occurs with asset management planning, some co-ordination of service delivery such as radiotherapy services, and aggregated IT services.
However, I remain concerned that Northland DHB will be merged with an Auckland DHB, maybe Waitematā, which already reaches up to our southern boundary, and if this occurs our voice will be reduced.
I am sure all Northland MPs will be working very hard to get the best outcome possible from the Simpson reforms.
• Dr Shane Reti QSM is deputy leader of the National Party and a list MP based in Whangārei.