Labour list MP Marja Lubeck brought Labour’s Minister for Seniors, Dr Ayesha Verrall, to Ōrewa this month, providing locals with an opportunity to have their questions answered direct.
Minister Verrall came fresh from promotion to new portfolios – she is now Labour’s Minister for the Covid-19 response and Research, Science, and Innovation as well as Associate Minister of Health.
Around 50 seniors attended the meeting, in Ōrewa Community Hall on June 14.
A group of around six walked out when the government’s Covid-19 response was praised by the Minister.
Most of the questions directed to the Minister, who is also a doctor and infectious diseases expert, were about the healthcare system, particularly long wait times for planned care (previously known as elective surgery) and the shortage of nurses. Issues such as the high cost of hearing aids, employment for older workers, and support for those caring for people with dementia were also raised.
Regarding the number of nurses, the Minister said it has been an issue for successive governments, made worse by the pandemic. She said a plan to assist nurses to return to work, new training options and the staged reopening of the borders, allowing more healthcare workers in, and making it easier for them to get residency, would help.
“There is more to be done and it is one of the main priorities for Health NZ,” the Minister said.
Health NZ is the new entity which will replace the 20 District Health Boards starting this week (July 1). It will lead the day-to-day running of the health system for the whole country and also take over the operational functions of the Ministry of Health, such as managing national contracts.
The Minister told the Ōrewa gathering that this system will provide more funding certainty as well as tackling workforce issues.
The provision of a second Covid-19 booster (fourth dose) was also raised at the Ōrewa meeting and Minister Verrall said changes to allow this to happen were currently going through parliament under urgency. These have since passed.
She said she has also heard that Pfizer may be developing an Omicron variant-specific vaccine.