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Newtown group wants answers over health cuts

Jul 18th, 2012 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

WANTING ANSWERS: Members of United Community Action Newtown demonstrate outside Wellington Hospital.

A NEWTOWN community group is refusing to accept the health board’s silence over a funding cut to the local clinic.

After a quarter million dollar funding cut to the Newtown Union Health Service was announced, the group campaigned at a recent Capital and Coast District Health Board monthly meeting, but to no avail.

“Most of the board was unresponsive to our submissions, and they won’t answer our questions,” says Debbie Leyland, a member of United Community Action Newtown, the group leading the campaign.

“They are being very secretive. We want more transparent, open decisions made in the public part of these board meetings.

“They haven’t explained anything, so we want a public debate.”

The group protested, presented oral submissions and a petition with 600 signatures to the board, which said it would consider public concerns and announce the final decision at the next board meeting in August.

Ms Leyland tried to arrange a meeting to talk to Tony Ryall, Minister of Health, but was told there would be a four month wait.

The group is now planning more public campaigns to put pressure on the Ministry of Health to reconsider funding cuts, she says.

And it has attracted the attention of TV3’s Campbell Live show, which may turn up at the group’s next meeting this week to give some coverage.

Outreach clinics, asthma education, midwifery, and sexual health services are likely to go if the funding cut is finalised.

Ms Leyland says if services like the Strathmore outreach clinic are lost, vulnerable people will be less likely to seek primary health care and end up in hospital.

“For example, if you live in Strathmore and are on a low wage, with a sick child, and English isn’t your first language, it’s more of a challenge to get to Newtown. It’s the little things, these services are vital, crucial stuff.”

She says the group is building solidarity with unions to take the issue nation-wide, because Newtown is not the only clinic losing funding for valuable services.

Capital and Coast DHB communications advisor Lindsay Davis says the cut does not mean  people will not be able to get the help they need.

“If the Newtown service stops their outreach clinic to council flats, people will still be able to access health services, but they will have to come into the Newtown clinic.”

Newtown service’s manager, Fiona Osten, says the DHB is in a difficult position:  “If they do decide not to take money from us, they will have to take it from somewhere else.”

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation says it supports the group’s actions and Ms Leyland is a guest speaker at their regional meeting this week.

Dr Ben Gray, a senior lecturer in Primary Health Care and General Practice at the University of Otago Wellington and former NUHS doctor, told the board in his submission  the funding cut does not make sense to him because research clearly shows primary care is much more cost effective at improving health status than secondary care.

“They (funding cuts) will lead to increased costs for the hospital in the way of increased emergency department visits, higher hospital admission rates and the risk of collapse of our obstetric (midwifery) service.”

Ms Leyland also says Newtown school children are getting behind the campaign and will present a submission at the DHB August meeting.

United Community Action Newtown is holding a meeting chaired by Wellington Councillor Paul Eagle this Thursday, 5pm, at the Newtown Community and Cultural Centre.

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