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Criticism Of Decision To Scrap Conference

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Tony Ryall
Tony Ryall

Wellington, Jan 21 NZPA - The Government is being accused of forcing the canning of a major health conference for political reasons, but Health Minister Tony Ryall says the decision was about the best use of money.

The Health Ministry has canned a major conference of more than 300 health care professionals after Mr Ryall called for a review.

The $123,000 primary health care delivery conference was to be held in Wellington from February 24 to 26.

A spokesman for Mr Ryall today said Health Ministry chief executive Stephen McKernan had made the decision to scrap the conference after the minister had raised concerns and ordered a review of all conferences.

The conference, planned by the ministry and District Health Boards New Zealand, would have been the third of its kind in the past five years.

The spokesman said Mr Ryall was committed to redirecting health dollars to the front line.

He said Mr McKernan had made the decision to scrap the conference based on the number of registrations and the fact the Royal College of General Practitioners would be running a conference within weeks of the ministry's one.

However, it was possible it would be held later in the year, once professionals had had the chance to digest and discuss the Government's health policies.

Labour deputy leader Annette King said the Government had canned the conference for political reasons and in doing so had broken its promise to help DHBs work more co-operatively.

She said the conference included presentations by health promoters, pharmacists, rural GPs and elder care providers.

"This would have been the perfect opportunity for not only health professionals, but also the minister of health to learn from providers across the primary care sector, but instead Mr Ryall has chosen to score a few cheap political points.

"Cancelling this conference only highlights the lack of importance National places on primary health care."

A ministry spokeswoman told NZPA the total cost of the conference would have been $350,000, but that dropped by $227,000 to $123,000 once it was offset by the conference fees of $790 per person.

Rowena Gotty and Jenni Moore, co-leaders of Health Care Aotearoa (HCA), a not-for-profit health provider organisation, criticised the decision.

"Conferences such as this help to ensure that all those involved in primary health care -- doctors, nurses, community and iwi health workers, ministry and district health board employees -- can exchange information and are up with the play when it comes to best practice and service delivery," Ms Gotty said.

Ms Moore said the conference had a wider focus to the up-coming GP conference and it was more than two years since the last conference focusing on the primary health care strategy.

It is the second conference the new Government has indirectly cancelled since the election.

In December, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett directed the Families Commission to reconsider a $200,000 conference due to the tough economic times.

The commission scrapped the conference, which was to bring together 150 "leaders and decision makers" in Auckland in February.

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