The Government’s plan to roll a number of helpline services together looks set to proceed with disastrous consequences, Labour’s Associate Health Spokesperson David Clark says.
Latest reports suggest Australian company Medibank is the most likely provider.
“If Medibank wins the contract to supply helpline services, the 0800 Poison Helpline is likely to be put on life support. Its 50th anniversary in December may well turn into a wake.
“Medibank has indicated to existing providers that it intends to cherry-pick the easy helpline calls and refer the more difficult calls - or those from paramedics, ambulance officers and emergency departments - on to the National Poisons Centre.
“That will mean a dramatic reduction in the number of calls fielded by the National Poisons Centre and a reduction in staff numbers.
“A loss of staff will compromise the integrity of the National Poisons database since currently the same experts who update that are the ones who field the calls.
“If the database is not maintained to its present standard, it will become an unviable proposition.
“Otago University currently provides a heavy subsidy to the National Poisons Centre. It is hard to imagine them carrying more cost to support a lower quality model with the risks that represents.
“If the Government doesn’t intervene to remove the Poisons line from the amalgamation, we may end up with both a diminished service and higher costs.
“Every New Zealander has the right to expect timely health advice in an emergency.
“It is best practice to have a stand-alone service and New Zealand would be unique in the western world in doing away with a stand-alone service,” David Clark said.
Petition to save the helpline: http://action.labour.org.nz/savethepoisonshelpline#top