New public health agency to champion prevention and ease pressure – Verrall

Smoking prevention will be high on the agenda of a new agency, which aims to ‘ease’ some of the extreme pressures on the healthcare system, says Dr Ayesha Verrall.

Verrall, Covid-19 Minister and Associate Minister of Health, donned Red Band rubber boots and planted a harakeke with outgoing Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield on Monday morning outside the Department of Health to mark the creation of the new Public Health Agency.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall plant a harakeke.

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall plant a harakeke.

“The Public Health Agency will incorporate the lessons we’ve learned about preventative health in the pandemic,” Verrall said after the planting.

It started with the Smoke-Free Bill, introduced in parliament last week, which would make the purchase of tobacco illegal for anyone born in 2009 and later. The legislation “could prevent the deaths of around 2,000 people,” Verrall said.

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Verrall would not admit the health system was in crisis, despite cries from GPs and emergency doctors that the pressure is the worst it has ever been.

Health Minister Andrew Little was due to attend but did not feel well, and tweeted that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Little also declined to say the current pressures on the system amounted to a crisis.

“I know our healthcare system at all levels is under tremendous pressure,” Verrall said. “And the government is doing everything it can to make sure that we put additional resources into it, that we give it the support it needs to continue, but also to chart a course for a new future where some of the pressures that they ‘re under are improved.

The new agency would help achieve this, she said, by “getting the ambulance off the bottom of the cliff”.

Ministry of Health staff perform the waiata during a ceremony marking the establishment of the Public Health Agency.

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

Ministry of Health staff perform the waiata during a ceremony marking the establishment of the Public Health Agency.

The work was “on track” to address screening backlogs for breast and cervical cancers, Verrall said.

The agency is part of major health reform which saw the country’s 20 district health boards transferred to Health New Zealand on July 1.

Bloomfield, whose career focused on public health and non-communicable diseases before becoming chief executive, said the agency was a major achievement.

“It’s not just about strengthening the delivery of public health services, but this system-wide approach to population health, and particularly in primary and community care, offers a lot to our system to the future.

New chief health officer Diana Sarfati, right, and outgoing chief health officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

New chief health officer Diana Sarfati, right, and outgoing chief health officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Bloomfield passes the reins of chief executive to Diana Sarfarti, a public health doctor and current head of the Cancer Agency, at the end of July.

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