Allison Roe - "time for a radical shake-up in health care"

13 September 2010, 2:39PM

Health board hopeful Allison Roe says the time has come for a radical shake-up of how we approach public health in New Zealand.

A candidate for the upcoming Waitemata District Health Board elections, runner turned health advocate Allison says forward thinking is needed if New Zealand ever wants to fix its public health woes.

“We’ve doubled our health spend in ten years and then grown that bill even further. We are now up to a $14 billion per year spent on health, but are still playing a desperate catch up game with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer and arthritis.

“For a small clever country, it’s clear we have to get a whole lot smarter when it comes to our health game plan.”

She believes the current approach to health care is doomed for failure with experts saying that by 2020 some 18 – 20% of our GDP could be going on health care costs.

Allison points to the testimonies of health experts like Dr Dean Ornish, Dr Andrew Weil and Dr Mehmet Oz – all of whom presented submissions to a 2009 US Senate Health Reform committee on better ways to tackle illness.

“America spends $US2.1 trillion a year on medical care with 95 cents of every dollar going to treat diseases after they have already occurred. Yet Dean Ornish explained that 75% of that money goes to heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer and obesity – all of which can either be prevented or reversed by changing diet and lifestyle.

“Dr Ornish cited studies that showed improved nutrition, stress management, walking and psychosocial support were more powerful in treating many illnesses than using drugs.

“Take the point that America spent more than $US100 billion in 2006 for coronary bypass surgery and angioplasty - despite studies which showed that angioplasty and stents do not prolong life in 95% of people who receive them - and bypass surgery prolongs life in less than 2 – 3% of patients.

“Contrast that with a study published in The Lancet in 2004 which followed 30,000 men and women on six continents and found lifestyle changes could prevent 90% of all heart disease.”

Allison says the best way to stem rising costs of chronic illness is low cost, low technology approaches where people can take charge of their own health once they have the right knowledge. “The successful use of vitamin C to save the life of an ICU patient with swine flu is an excellent example of this. Research into such interventions should be a priority.”

Allison wants to see the Waitemata District Health Board collaborate with groups such as integrative medicine doctors, naturopathic colleges, universities and pharmacies in producing educational packages and educators to improve community health.

“Health boards have been slow to develop the role of other health professionals, for instance complementary practitioners are an under utilised resource.

“Given the low ratio of GPs in Waitakere, imagine how this area could become a natural leader in preventative health care by utilising complementary health practitioners who are widely represented.”

Another American example Allison cites is the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute which worked with eight hospitals and found that after a year of lifestyle changes almost after 80% of people were able to safely avoid heart surgery or angioplasty – with a saving of $US30,000 per patient.

“Part of any forward thinking in health care must be to couple better delivery of services with reduction of avoidable hospital admissions,” says Allison.