Has he received any reports detailing the importance of lowering general practitioners’ fees?
Yes, I have. Research released about 2 weeks ago shows that the reduction in general practitioners’ fees for over-65-year-olds, for example, has so far led to a 24 percent increase in consultation for that age group. Earlier access to health care means better health outcomes. That is known. That is why this Government’s low fees policy matters so much.
Has the Minister seen any reports that may lead to a reversal of the Government’s low fees policy?
Yes. It has been well reported throughout New Zealand that the National Party was caught trying to conceal its intention to let doctors’ fees rise. That is well known. What is less well known is that the National leader, John Key, chose that moment to reveal his deep instinctive preference for the market as it affects health care. When cornered, Mr Key likened doctors’ services to those of mechanics and accountants, and said: “The market will solve any problems.” In all of this tawdry issue, I think the most chilling insight is that the health of New Zealanders will be determined by market forces, according to Mr Key. That is the sort of thing Dr Brash used to say.
How realistic does the Minister think it would be for New Zealanders to shop around for doctors if the cap on general practitioners’ fees was removed and a person’s own doctor was to exorbitantly increase his or her fees, given that there are areas of New Zealand where there are no doctors or there are very, very long waiting lists to see a doctor?
The relationship between a patient and a general practitioner or a patient and a medical centre is often very close and very longstanding. Shopping around is not part of the behaviour of many of us when we go to seek medical advice. It is in part, but it is not a substantial part of our behaviour. What is most likely to happen if general practitioners’ fees—[ Interruption] I hear National members trying to talk me down. This stuff matters. What is likely to happen if general practitioners’ fees return towards the levels that they used to be before this Government came into office is simply that New Zealanders would put off having their breast, their prostate, their cough, or whatever it is, checked. As a result of that, we will end up with poorer health-care. There is substantial international literature to that effect.
Given that the Minister is talking about New Zealanders missing out on access to services, what will he do about the case of a Matatā woman who needs a cancerous part of her lung removed but has had her surgery cancelled three times, including once when she was fully gowned, and has now been given a fourth time and told to ring the day before to find out whether that operation will be cancelled, as well?
It is a time-honoured practice of the member to hide behind some primary question, then come up, unannounced, with a patient whose name I cannot know and whose condition I cannot know, and to make a series of assertions that, more often than not, are not entirely as the member would have them when they are checked out. I simply say to the member that if he cares about this New Zealander would he please come to me with the details so that I can make progress on that case.