Health crisis: Christopher Luxon accuses Chris Hipkins of 'gaslighting' New Zealanders

Christopher Luxon is accusing the Prime Minister of "gaslighting" the public with comments he made about the health sector.

The National leader said the health sector was "frankly not" in a good place, despite Prime Minister Chris Hipkins saying it's better than it was pre-pandemic.

It comes after the Labour Government on Tuesday decided to keep the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions in place for the time being. That means people who test positive for the virus still have to isolate at home for a week.

National didn't support the move, nor did ACT. 

On Tuesday, Hipkins said the ability of the health system to cope with COVID-19 cases was part of the decision - but added he's confident improvements were being made. 

"The health system's better prepared now than it was three years ago and it will continue to improve," he told reporters

But Luxon on Wednesday said Labour was deceiving New Zealanders with those comments.

"I think Chris Hipkins is gaslighting the New Zealand people saying, 'Everything's fine in healthcare' - and it's frankly not," Luxon told AM.

ACT leader David Seymour agreed with Luxon, saying hospital workers were "at breaking point, the health professionals are frustrated, the waiting lists are getting longer - none of it's a good story".

"One of the main things we need in healthcare is more people - it's a people service/business. However, the fact that we're almost expected to congratulate Labour for doing what they obviously should've done a year ago… doesn't quite wash with me," Seymour told AM Early, referring to the Government's move on Tuesday to introduce another 32 healthcare roles to the immigration fast track list

Seymour described the situation as being "in a battle" with the likes of Australia and Canada to attract skilled workers.

Focus came back on the health system last week after outspoken former Te Whatu Ora boss Rob Campbell raised concerns about the Government's reforms.  

The reforms have involved the scrapping of regional district health boards and the creation of Te Whatu Ora - essentially a national health service. 

But Campbell last week likened the new system to a half-baked caked that hadn't made enough change.

"You've got to look back to the way the system was set up - it was very much a top-down restructuring," he told AM. There wasn't sufficient account taken of the views of staff, unions, professional organisations [and] deliverers of primary care - that whole range of people that make up our health system were excluded from it."

Hipkins on Tuesday said growing the health workforce and easing pressure on the system was a priority for the Government. 

Asked by Newshub political editor Jenna Lynch to elaborate on how the health system is better than it was three years ago, Hipkins said science advancement had made "a massive difference".

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The Hui

"Vaccination has played a significant role in the way we've been able to combat COVID-19," he added.

"One of the challenges that the health system faces is a workforce shortage and you've just seen me making an announcement on one of the things that we can do to help with that."

Seymour, however, believed people were no longer queuing to work in New Zealand.

"We've got to get real and start doing everything we can to attract people - not wait a year and say, 'Oh, maybe dentists should be fast-tracked to residency.'"

In Parliament last week, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall - who took over the portfolio from Andrew Little earlier this year - said the Government did not believe its reforms were "half-baked".

"A new national health system will help more people get better services closer to home, tackle health inequalities by working in partnership with Māori, and help New Zealanders live longer, healthier lives. The need for reform is clear," Dr Verrall said, under questioning from National's Shane Reti. 

"Turning around under-resourcing and inequities will take years but we make progress every day. Our health system has been through a crisis - it's called a pandemic - and has delivered some of the best outcomes in the world. However, I acknowledge it continues to face significant pressures and that's why I've set priorities for Te Whatu Ora around winter preparedness, workforce, and wait lists."