Public health expert urges govt to focus on disease prevention

A public health expert is calling on the government to step up disease prevention, following a new study showing a third of New Zealanders have unmet health needs.

The report published on Friday by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists found unmet need for GP services and specialists combined (34.3 percent and 5.1 percent respectively), was probably even higher as it did not include the lack of after-hours care, unfilled prescriptions due to cost, and other factors.

Professor Boyd Swinburn, Co-Chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa

Professor Boyd Swinburn from Auckland University, who is the co-chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa, welcomed the report’s recommendation for more work in “the prevention space” to deal with the causes of disease.

“If anything, this government has been taking prevention backwards with the repeal of the Smokefree Environments Bill and also looking to chop the school lunches,” he said.

“So we really need the government to step up in its prevention measures across these big problems that alcohol, smoking and unhealthy food are creating for the hospitals and the burdens of disease that they’re having to deal with.”

Almost 1.3 million people attended public hospital Emergency Departments (EDs) in 2022/23 – an increase of 22.5 percent since 2013/14.

Those patients were also sicker: The proportion of them with immediately or potentially life threatening conditions had grown from a half to two thirds, according to the report.

Professor Swinburn said these were “symptoms of a health system that wasn’t dealing well with prevention”.

“And yes, some of these things take many years to turn around – turning around the obesity epidemic, for example, will take some years – but it needs some policy to do that, and we haven’t even seen that.

“Some things work very quickly (alcohol regulations, taxes on sugary drinks) they can work very quickly to reduce the burden on hospitals and health care systems in general.”

It was not necessary to hold more reviews or inquiries, in his view.

“We know what to do, we just haven’t done it.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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