Newshub Nation: Health Minister Ayesha Verrall unhappy with the state of health sector

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall admits that New Zealand's health system is struggling but believes measures currently in place will eventually put us on the right track. 

After a tumultuous week, Verrall sat down with Rebecca Wright from Newshub Nation to address nationwide concerns about hospital emergency department wait times. 

Earlier in the week Verrall referred to data from Te Whatu Ora to suggest there had been a large improvement in Northland's ED response times.

But Te Whatu Ora later admitted the data they had provided the minister was faulty, later retracting it. 

Te Whatu Ora national medical director Pete Watson said rather than improving, the situation was actually deteriorating. 

"I'm not happy about the wait times," Verrall told Newshub Nation. 

"I'm also unhappy about what happened with the data this week but Te Whatu Ora have owned that and apologised for the publication error and the data on the website."

Going forward, Verrall is expecting Te Whatu Ora to "prioritise action in this area, but there's no silver bullet. 

"We're going to need to act on a variety of things," said Verrall, before referring to things she believes New Zealand is already doing well. 

"The new COVID vaccine will be rolling out and we will be making sure we have access to RATs and antivirals, which are still free.

Another measure already in place to support health systems is the influenza vaccine over the winter. 

"We also need to collaborate between hospitals and community health services to make sure we're keeping people well and out of hospital to unblock our emergency departments," Verrall said. 

However, the core of our health system, its staff, remain under pressure due to low numbers.

When asked what she was doing to address the staffing shortfall, Verrall referred to the 1700 additional doctors and 4000 additional nurses added to the workforce since 2017. 

When pushed on why staff were still experiencing huge pressure and burnout, she said staff sickness due to COVID and over winter was an important dimension. 

With regards to nurses, Verrall thought recent achievements in pay equity between New Zealand and Kiwi nurses will make the role more attractive. 

"We're also working on the pay of nurses in the community and that matters to emergency departments too," she said. 

"It's the beds in places like aged residential care that need to be staffed so that people can move through the hospital discharge when they recover and then our emergency departments can flow much more freely."

While there has been progress in bolstering the nursing workforce, there remains a shortfall of nurses, with some reports listing 4000 vacancies. 

"I am not happy but we are making really important progress," Verrall said. 

"We clearly need to do more, but I think we're making all the important steps. We've had large numbers come through polytechs and university courses recently.

"Now I think we can turn to our young people and say we've taken a really important and historic step in terms of valuing nurses in the work that they do through the interim pay equity payments."  

To tackle burnout, Verrall believes workplaces need to be "working systemically through the issues that are impacting, whether that's short staffing or others." 

"That is the work of the managers in our healthcare system."

"It is also important for workers to feel they have the ability to raise issues and have them addressed in their workplace and that is something that needs to be more of a focus."

The other staffing shortfall New Zealand's health system faces is the number of doctors being trained, especially those heading into general practice. 

Dr Bryan Betty, the medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, said we need to double the number of GPs trained. 

Verrall said the Government has already taken action by increasing "the number of funded general practitioner spots from 200 last year up to 300," as well as raising the amount that GP specialist trainees are paid during their training. 

She "wants to work with the College of General Practice to make sure that all of these slots are taken up."

If Kiwis are able to consult with their GPs at the early stages of illness, it becomes less likely they will need to go to the hospital later. 

Verrall admits "we do have to do more for that pipeline to grow and that will include making sure that when students go through medical school they're getting exposed enough to rural medicine as a form."

"In terms of doctors coming into the country," Verrall said, "not only can they be supervised in a hospital, but they can also be supervised in general practice, increasing the chance that they go on to become general practitioners here."

Watch the full video for more. 

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