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Elective Surgery—Laboratory Workers’ Strike

Tuesday 5 December 2006 Hansard source (external site)

Ryall6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) Link to this
to the Minister of Health

How many patients have had their surgery deferred as a result of the current strike by laboratory workers, and how long will it take to clear the surgical backlog?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) Link to this

I am afraid it is not clear at this stage. It is true that acute and elective surgery has been deferred both in the public and private sectors during the strike. However, before the strike district health boards increased their volumes to compensate for the delays expected, and during the strike some more major surgery was replaced by minor surgery that did not require blood products or laboratory tests.

RyallHon Tony Ryall Link to this

Are patients at risk or is care being compromised during the strike?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

It is my view that this strike is a more difficult strike than earlier ones. Clinicians have indicated to me through the media or in private meetings that this strike is more concerning because it involves laboratory workers and that the life-preserving parts of the arrangement we have in our society will be used more often. That has turned out to be the case.

StreetMaryan Street Link to this

What plans do the district health boards have for recovery?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

The district health boards, especially the large district health boards, are confident that they will deliver a full day of surgery tomorrow. That means that normal volumes of surgery will be done. District health boards will prioritise those patients with the greatest needs and they aim to recover much of the lost ground by Christmas.

RyallHon Tony Ryall Link to this

Will the Minister answer the question: does he agree with the statements of the 11 Auckland surgeons, the Medical Council, and others declaring that during this strike patients are at risk and care is being compromised; if not, why not?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

I am advised that the strike has exposed a difference between the Code of Good Faith as signed between the Council of Trade Unions and district health boards, and the expression of that code in the schedule of the Employment Relations Act. The Government is anticipating that parties to the code will seek a change to the schedule.

RyallHon Tony Ryall Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was quite clear. It was not about life-preserving situations; it was clearly asking the Minister whether he agreed with the comments of the experts who say that patients are at risk and that care is being compromised during the strike. We are looking for the Minister to either confirm that or not confirm that.

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

I think it is undoubtedly the case that there have been compromises made during this strike and that there have also been delays. I hope that we are able to assert, however, that the life-preserving services agreement, which—as a feature of this Government and not of his previous Government—has been important.

RyallHon Tony Ryall Link to this

How can it be safe and not compromising of care when a West Coast woman diagnosed with a cancerous growth on her kidney last month, whose operation was cancelled yesterday because of the strike, may have to wait another 2 months to find out how bad her cancer is, and how can he suggest that her care is not being compromised?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

I am sorry; I did not make it clear to the member. I thought I said in my answer to his earlier question that it is clear that people’s care is being compromised and/or delayed, and he has simply come up with an example of where a woman who might otherwise have received treatment has had that treatment delayed. My own mother is in the same position, I might say.

RyallHon Tony Ryall Link to this

Is he aware that patients whose operations have been cancelled before the laboratory workers’ strike will probably now have to wait until late January or February for their surgery—that is, a 1-month or 2-month delay; and what would he say to a woman diagnosed with bowel cancer 2 months ago whose surgery was cancelled yesterday and who may have to wait another 6 weeks before vital surgery, and all the while her cancer is growing, and he has done absolutely nothing to bring the parties to the table to solve this crisis?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

I will just say to the member, as I have said to him before, that I am neither the employer nor the employee. My obligation is to ensure that folk do operate within the law of this land—and, indeed, they do. I will say to the member what I have said to the member earlier in this question, which is that district health boards are of the view that they can recover much of the lost ground before Christmas this year.

RyallHon TONY RYALL Link to this

What is it about his handling of the health portfolio that has meant that this year we have seen the junior doctors’ strike, the radiographers’ strike, the radiotherapists’ strike, the laboratory workers’ strikes, and there are more strikes to come; and does he take any responsibility at all for the thousands of patients whose care has been disrupted while he has this appetite for industrial action?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

The member needs to be a little careful with his history. The truth of the matter is that there are fewer strikes under this legislation than there were under the Employment Contracts Act. That is a matter of fact. It is a matter of fact, and I am just saying to the member that the junior doctors have settled. I urge the radiographers and radiation therapists, the laboratory workers, and the district health boards with whom they negotiate to come to an agreement as soon as they are able, and I am hoping that some of them will.

BlueDr Jackie Blue Link to this

Has the Minister heard any reports that there may be a second laboratory workers’ strike starting before Christmas, and what has to happen—does someone have to die as a result of the strikes—before the Minister will step in and take action and responsibility?

HodgsonHon PETE HODGSON Link to this

There have been 150 strike notices lodged by one person this calendar year. There may be 151.

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