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The BulletinNovember 2, 2023

Children bear brunt of strain in health system

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Image: Getty Images

The number of children under five who were hospitalised for conditions that should have been addressed in primary care has risen by 35% across the country, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Preventable hospital admissions for babies and pre-schoolers up 35%

Performance data for Te Whatu Ora for the year to June was released on Tuesday. As RNZ reports, preventable hospital admissions for babies and pre-schoolers is up by 35% on the same time last year. It’s worse for Pasifika children, with their hospitalisation rate increasing by 45%. The data shows an increase in the number of children admitted to hospital with asthma, pneumonia, upper respiratory and ear, nose and throat infections, as well as gastro-enteritis, dehydration and cellulitis. Auckland GP and Māori clinical advisory to the Immunisation Advisory Centre, Dr Mamaeroa David, said the spike in hospitalisations for illnesses that should have been picked up earlier within the primary health care system was worrying. Her practice has recently closed its books because patients were waiting too long for appointments. A report published in April 2023 stated childhood immunisation rates have fallen to “critical levels”. The National party’s health policy includes incentive payments for GPs for achieving immunisation targets, including full immunisation for two-year-olds.

Reduction in surgical waiting list in some regions

As the Herald’s Issac Davidson reports, there is some good news in the performance data. The number of people waiting more than a year for surgery has been reduced in some regions. Waiting lists in Auckland and Northland have been cut by more than half after the introduction of initiatives to reduce pandemic-related backlogs. However, more patients have been waiting longer for their first specialist assessments and cancer treatment, and more people were staying longer in emergency departments. Te Whatu Ora chief clinical officer Dr Richard Sullivan says, “we haven’t seen the improvements we would have liked to have seen.”

Lack of progress on Hawke’s Bay birthing unit

Te Whatu Ora accepted the recommendations of a highly critical report into how Hawke’s Bay Hospital treats whānau Māori in maternity care in June 2022. One of the recommendations was to create a Māori birthing unit. Ngāti Kahungunu health service chief executive Jean Te Huia says the lack of progress on the unit to date was a sad indictment on meeting the needs of Māori. “If we are serious in this country about addressing the appalling statistics that affect our Māori women and babies, then this is the right thing to do.” Work on progressing the unit was transitioned to Te Whatu Ora after district health boards were folded into the national health agency. Te Whatu Ora says the work will “occur within the context of the wider health reforms, including maternal and infant health outcomes.”

The way Oranga Tamariki collects and manages data needs to ‘change and evolve’

The Baby Ru case has raised further questions about the care of some of our most vulnerable and at-risk children in New Zealand this week. A Stuff database shows that Baby Ru was at least the 65th New Zealander aged 17 or younger killed since April 2017. Reporting for The Post this morning, Tom Hunt writes that those on the frontline of trying to bring the country’s child homicide statistics down to zero are relying on media reports and old or vague figures to measure the problem. ACT MP Karen Chhour says she struggled to get official, current child homicide figures from government departments. Oranga Tamariki chief executive Chappie Te Kani says the way the agency collects and manages data needs to change and evolve.

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