At no point during the election campaign last year did Labour or its coalition partner campaign to get rid of national health targets.

So the decision Health Minister David Clark to drop national health targets came like a bolt.

They have never been particularly controversial, not like national standards.

There has been no raging debate about any harm they do.

In fact for the past six years Labour and Jacinda Ardern in particular have insisted there is value in having specific targets in the area of child poverty in order to measure progress.

Ardern won that argument. There has been wide buy-in to that argument, which makes Clark’s decision when it comes to public health the more bizarre.

It was a decision that did not go to Cabinet – and should have.

National health targets are means by which to hold a government accountable to voters and set priorities in a sector which received more than $17 billion in the May Budget.

They give a national snapshot and regional snapshot in various areas. They give a good indication of whether patients in provincial DHBs are getting similar treatment as those in Auckland, in specific areas: elective surgery, cancer treatment, immunisation, smoking, and heart and diabetes checks and emergency department waiting times.

They are by no means the only measure but they were ones the public could easily relate to.

In such a huge sector, not everything can get top priority. That is the case whether or not targets are set. Budgets are always about rationing.

A concentration on, say, treatment times for cancer, or how long it takes to be treated in an emergency department will inevitably mean a concentration of resources in a particular area at the expense of others.

But they are usually areas that have been crying out their own form of intensive attention as was the case when New Zealand cancer patients were regularly flown to Australia for treatment.

National trumpeted the use of targets, which may have got under the skin of Labour.

But they were started under the last Labour Government and continued, initially reluctantly, by National.

The least that the new Government could have done was come up with its own priorities or have some new form of accountability in place before ditching the targets.

Audrey Young is a political editor for the NZ Herald.

Source: NZ Herald

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