TODAY |

'Public health malpractice' - professor urges NZ healthcare reform

A Massey University professor says the way we treat healthcare for the elderly in New Zealand borders on malpractice.

A Massey University professor says chronic illnesses continue to be treated the same as acute illnesses – and it’s costing millions. Source: 1 NEWS

Professor Paul McDonald of Massey University's College of Health says it was a misconception that an ageing population was the cause of increasing healthcare expenditure - up to a 4.3 per cent increase annually.

We're currently trying to treat chronic disease is through a medical care system which was designed to treat acute conditions - Professor Paul McDonald

He said that the increase instead comes from the way the healthcare system is set up - primarily to treat acute illnesses.

"It's really related to the increase in chronic diseases and the stubborn way we insist on treating them, and things like end of life care, which are expensive regardless of what age you die at," he told TV ONE's Breakfast programme this morning.

Acute conditions are severe and sudden in onset. This could describe anything from a broken bone to an asthma attack.

A chronic condition, by contrast is a long-developing syndrome, such as osteoporosis or asthma. 

"The way that we're currently trying to treat chronic disease is through a medical care system which was designed to treat acute conditions. 

We know there are certain things that work yet we continue to ignore making the proper investments in them - Professor Paul McDonald

"The big challenge is for us to really rethink some of the paradigms we use - right now we think that health is a series of medical challenges that sometimes have social implications - what we need to do is turn that paradigm on its head and realise that health is a series of social, economical and cultural challenges and opportunities that sometimes produce medical implications."

Getting political support for a re-think of the health system involved advocacy, Professor McDonald said, and pointed to failures in overseas health systems operating the same way, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

"Eventually we're going to realise that we're going down a path that other nations have gone before - the present way that we're doing it isn't working," he said.

"We're on the verge of committing what I would call public health malpractice - we know there are certain things that work yet we continue to ignore making the proper investments in them."