by Lindsay Mitchell
Here we go again. Part of the panacea for solving the health system crisis is the brand-new Community Pharmacy Minor Ailments Service. A free service to treat minor ailments like skin infections and diarrhoea will be provided by local pharmacies to ease the pressure on GPs.
This is of course a ‘borrowed’ idea. But probably a good one going by Scottish experience where a survey showed, “Positive perceptions and experiences of those using MAS [Minor Ailment Service]”. These services are available across UK countries but differ from New Zealand in one major respect — They are not restricted by ethnicity.
According to Te Whatu Ora, In New Zealand “Māori and Pacific, children under the age of 14 and their whānau, and Community Service Card (CSC) holders will be able to get free consultation and receive funded treatment for certain minor ailments this winter.”
The majority of the population is excluded.
Was that clearly signalled?
Discussion about the service cropped up on a Wellington talk show earlier this week. The host described his experience taking a family member with a large stye into his local pharmacy. Apparently, the pharmacist told the family member to book a GP consultation and the patient had to take the remainder of the week off work awaiting doctor treatment.
Perhaps the family member was the wrong colour but the pharmacist didn’t want to point this out?
The government seems to have built an expectation that the service is for everyone. At least that’s the perception that emerges when you are reticent about revealing it is actually restricted to Maori, Pacific, the poor and children.
On Tuesday NewstalkZB Wellington led their news bulletins with versions of the following: “76 pharmacies across the district are signed up to a scheme allowing them to treat minor conditions and ease pressure on GPs and hospital services over the winter months.”
Media coverage in Stuff makes no mention of restrictions to the service.
As a consumer of mainstream media, the fact that the service is actually severely limited later came as a complete surprise.
This Labour government, riddled with communications specialists and purportedly the most “transparent and honest” ever, unfortunately has a memory like a sieve.
In the early 2000s Helen Clark was forced to run a massive damage-control strategy when her ‘Closing the Gaps’ policy eventually sunk into the collective consciousness. The public was justifiably angry and unaccepting that services were restricted by ethnicity. She had to change the focus and rebrand the spending initiatives ‘Reducing Inequalities.’ She understood that Labour voters would accept targeting help to the poorest and neediest. And while many Maori and Pacific people fall into this group, a good many do not.
But in 2023 they are making the same mistake all over again.
Let’s not beat about the bush. All non-Maori and non-Pacific people who don’t have a Community Services card and are older than 13 are excluded from the pharmacy service. Pity the poor pharmacist who has to break the news to the sick patient presenting but ineligible.
This is a dying administration desperately grasping at straws, neither thinking policies through nor even reflecting on past experience. For these reasons alone, they need to go.
Lindsay Mitchell blogs here