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The Press- News column Nov 26

Forte Health a Force for Good.

The reincarnation of the Oxford Clinic as Forte Health, a super-charged, short-stay hospital facility in Christchurch, should be warmly welcomed. Forte’s foray into the heady world of private hospital care is clearly ruffling the feathers of the established players, St. Georges and Southern Cross, but the addition of four new operating theatres in Christchurch, has the potential to deliver faster, efficient surgery for many local people. It’s rather ironic that the existing private hospitals, longstanding agents of choice and competition in healthcare, appear somewhat po-faced by the imminent arrival of a fresh player. Critics claim Forte’s shareholder-surgeons will have a vested interest in herding patients towards their hospital’s operating theatre, for personal gain. But any semblance of unethical behaviour  would be highly actionable. Not only would Forte soon be facing a frothing mob of senior citizens and credibility-killing newspaper headlines, but formal complaints can easily be laid with the DHB and Health & Disability Commissioner. If Forte can lower the cost of short-stay surgery for patients, that must be seen as a force for good. Only a fool would pay more. If this fresh injection of competitive force in the private sector, triggers the existing players to sharpen their proverbial pencils and review their respective operating models, all the better.  If this enables more people to seek speedy, affordable elective surgery, privately, it will duly relievepressure from the public system,  enabling many public patients to be attended to faster.  Recently, I have seen first-hand the exceptional, unswerving dedication of care in the public health sector.  My father was urgently admitted to Christchurch Hospital for quadruple by-pass surgery. As I visited him day after day, traversing the crowded hospital’s corridors and wards, I was constantly in awe of the hospital staff and their intense working conditions. The tender loving care administered in the Cardio-Thoracic ICU was a privilege to observe.  Our public health sector will always be the great white knight for acute health care. But with an aging population, and the marvels of medical advances creating a slew of break-through surgical procedures, the more we can divert the elective surgery clamour into the private healthcare sector, at affordable prices, the better.   Meanwhile, the explosive cost of health insurance in your senior years desperately needs action. I think the notion of a nationwide flat “ for-life” premium, has huge merit. I would happily pay  a higher premium in my younger years, if it meant that I could still afford health cover, when I really needed it, in my golden years.  Similarly, it’s about time that over 65’s with health cover, qualify for a tax rebate.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column in The Press. Nov 26.

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