With district health boards struggling to pay its nurses, the Government has been urged to rein in Medical Officers of Health who spent $90,000 arguing High Court action over supermarket shelves in Dannevirke.
The NZ Alcohol and Beverages Council today labelled a decision by the Manawatu Medical Officer of Health to appeal to the High Court over the angle of shelving in a Dannevirke supermarket as an "appalling waste of public time, money and energy", also revealing Medical Officers of Health at nine DHBs joined up to fight a case of "national significance".
"MidCentral District Health Board should have better things to do than spend almost $90,000 chasing a small business over a petty matter of detail," Alcohol and Beverage Council executive director Nick Leggett said.
The appeal centred around some of the alcohol display shelving being at an angle when the licence renewal application plan showed it being at right angles to the wall.
The Medical Officer of Health said the angled shelves increased, "rather than minimised", the exposure of alcohol products to customers passing the alcohol area.
High Court Judge Justice Clark dismissed the appeal in May.
"The police and the local council had no issues with the alcohol displays, nor had any members of the public complained – but the story gets worse," Leggett said.
He released details of the costs of the High Court action along with the disclosure that eight other DHBs had also been involved in funding the action due to its perceived "national significance".
"While it beggars belief how the angle of retail shelves could ever become a health issue of 'national significance', I think people in Invercargill, Nelson, Canterbury, Dunedin and the West Coast will be shocked when they realise health money allocated for their medical care is being frittered on petty court action hundreds of kilometres away in the North Island.
"In terms of time and energy and court action, this case has cost healthcare consumers across New Zealand hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine how many hips could be replaced or cold homes insulated for that. It's an indictment on a sector that's struggling to pay nurses properly."
Following the police pursuit of bowling club liquor licences in Wellington, the NZ Alcohol and Beverages Council is calling on the Government to "reign in" Medical Officers of Health across the country and limit their work to harm reduction from real risks, rather than pursuing responsible licensees, he said.
Gary Hasler, the owner of the New World supermarket at the centre of the case, was nonplussed over the issue.
"I just think it seems to be an excessive waste of our health dollars that could be better spent," he said.
Foodstuffs New Zealand spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said the company was pleased with the outcome at the High Court.
"The fact the MidCentral District Health Board felt it was reasonable to object to New World Dannevirke's licence renewal on the basis that the 'angles of the shelves' had changed was surprising.
"The New World Dannevirke owners are highly conscious of the responsibility attached to holding a liquor licence and the process through the High Court has been stressful and costly for them, and perhaps not the best use of the DHB's limited resources."
MidCentral District Health has been approached for comment.