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SDHB - 24 hour ED wait times appalling, but inevitable

August 19, 2022 Share

Some patients in the South are waiting more than 24 hours to access emergency department care, but Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says she’s not surprised considering the state of local health services.         

“New data shows that in April of this year, 13 people waited more than 24 hours to be seen in an emergency department operated by the previous Southern District Health Board – the third highest rate in the country.

“This is an appalling delay for people who are unwell, but it’s not surprising considering the poor state of health services in this province.

“GP’s aren’t taking on new patients, creating a large unenrolled population, which means people are sicker when they get to hospital and take extra time to be seen.

“Urgent doctor care is also limited in Invercargill and expensive, so people end up at the city’s ED, the service is over-run and wait times explode.

“Eighteen months ago emergency department pressures were highlighted, along with GP and hospital staff shortages, and a lack of beds and operating theatre space at our hospital, but nothing was done.

“My concerns at the time were validated by Southland GP’s, specialists and patients, and then confirmed by a Clinical Needs Analysis, from consultants Sapere Research Group in June, stating that health services in Southland were ‘in crisis mode’ and needed urgent action.

“Despite alarm bells ringing loudly, the Health Minister has consistently ignored local concerns, instead promising his $486 million health restructure plan would make things right - so far it hasn’t.

“The lack of improvements is frustrating and I am genuinely worried about local health services, with these appalling ED wait times just the tip of the iceberg. 

"I wonder how serious things will have to get before the Government is forced to act.”

Te Pūkenga’s leadership plan misses the mark

August 17, 2022 Share

Te Pūkenga’s leadership consultation plan is big on spin but short on specifics, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Yesterday’s long-awaited document was a complete let-down. Te Pūkenga’s management had an opportunity to show real leadership and provide specific details on how the mega-merger was actually going to operate.

“Instead, we have a document that is thin on detail, riddled with idealistic language and provides none of the specifics that staff, learners, industry and local communities have been calling for.

“Most details on reshaping the sector - including the futures of staff and specific training programmes - have been kicked to touch until next year. This is simply not good enough.

“Staff job concerns may be alleviated for the next four months with guarantees of positions on 1 January 2023, but there’s no detail on staff restructuring beyond that date.  

“It is insulting for Te Pūkenga’s 13,000 staff to receive this ambiguous document which will determine their futures, while being offered just a three-week window to make their views known.

“It’s also ironic that Te Pūkenga’s acting Chief Executive Peter Winder has highlighted this process as being ‘a key step’ in the mega-merger’s restructure, but staff have given just three weeks to consider and submit on an ambiguous document.

“Once again, Te Pūkenga has failed to deliver. Management has produced a lightweight consultation document that is destined to achieve only limited results, leaving staff and learners in limbo.”

Figures show Southern Measles campaign a big disappointment

August 15, 2022 Share

The Government’s $20 measles vaccination catch-up programme has been a big disappointment in the South, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

 “Completed last month, just 1292 people in the Southern District Health Board region were vaccinated as part of the programme, in the two years between July 2020 and 30 June 2022.

 “That equates to about 12 people a week in the Southern area – not a great success rate when the Health Minster has spent a whopping $20 million on the campaign. 

 “Across the country just 23,500 were vaccinated, despite the Government saying its multi-million programme would reach 300,000 people.

 “To me this is another major fail from Andrew Little and a serious waste of taxpayer’s money, which could have been spent more productively on so many other areas in our health system.

 “This program was extremely badly handled, with promotional material taking three months to arrive and the Government forced to destroy $8 million worth of expired measles vaccine due to the poor uptake.

 “The Health Minister continues to fail to deliver for Southlanders. He has failed to deliver a health workforce, failed people who’ve been forced to wait longer for surgery, failed our elderly in rest homes and now he has failed to deliver a measles vaccine programme, costing taxpayers $20 milion.

 “This program was extremely badly handled, with promotional material taking three months to arrive and the Government forced to destroy $8 million worth of expired measles vaccine due to the poor uptake.

 “Minister Little continues to fail to deliver for Southlanders. He has failed to deliver a health workforce, failed people who’ve been forced to wait longer for surgery, failed our elderly in rest homes and now he has failed to deliver a measles vaccine programme, costing taxpayers $20 million.”

Unfair that Southern Polytechnics expected to trim millions

August 05, 2022 Share

Polytechnics in the South are being forced to cut millions from their budgets because the Government’s mega-merger polytechnic entity Te Pūkenga is in such a mess, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“The Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) will be required to cut about $1.5 million from its budget this year, and Otago Polytechnic about $2.8 million, as Te Pūkenga management ask institutes across the country to slash costs by 3 per cent to reduce its debt.

“Forcing top performing institutes like SIT and Otago Polytechnic to cut costs to prop up the troubled mega-merger structure, including the bloated head office, is blatantly unfair.

“Te Pūkenga, which now runs the country’s institutes of technology and polytechnics, is facing a forecasted $110 million deficit this year - something the Education Minister has ordered them to rectify - but why make successful polytechnics like SIT and Otago to pay the price.

“It’s frustrating that Te Pūkenga’s head office has taken this broad-brush approach to cut costs, expecting all polytechnics to make sacrifices rather than focussing on those institutes that have not been operating efficiently.

“This effectively means well-managed polytechnics are penalised, only adding to the stress and uncertainty institutes and their staff, like SIT are already facing.

“This slash and burn approach will do nothing to improve Te Pūkenga’s long-term sustainability, nor bring about the financial efficiencies that the Government’s reforms promised.

“There are also indications that this may not be the end of the cuts imposed in institutes. Te Pūkenga’s acting chief executive Peter Winder said they were looking at how further savings could be made, including axing unviable programmes and replacing face-to-face learner engagement with more in-work learning.

“It is clear that Labour’s attempts to restructure New Zealand’s polytechnics and technical institutes are a shambles. Our local institutions, and their students, are already paying the price.”

Western Star Column June 2022

July 25, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in the Western Star

The force with which the Government is pushing through its Three Waters reforms is alarming and its communities like those in Western Southland that will pay the price.

I attended a Groundswell Three Waters meeting in Invercargill recently, where there were about 700 people, and I saw first-hand the level of concern and frustration people have about these reforms.

They’re worried about the loss of local assets, the potential for water costs to increase and the fact that the Government has not heard people’s views.

Labour wants a centralised, one-size-fits-all model, with less local voice for our communities, so they do not want to listen to what local people want. 

The first reading debate on the Water Services Entities Bill (Three Waters) last week showed Labour has decided their amalgamation agenda is more important than the views of the public.

My colleague, and National's Local Government spokesperson Simon Watts, even proposed an amendment to the select committee motion - to extend the process so that communities across the country could have their voices heard on this legislation. 

Labour voted it down - a clear message they want to force these reforms through by the end of the year.

Labour may not be listening to New Zealanders but National is, and if elected in 2023, we will repeal and replace Three Waters.

Labour’s mega polytechnic Te Pūkenga in disarray

July 11, 2022 Share

Labour’s mega polytechnic Te Pūkenga is a shambles that couldn’t have come at a worse time amid New Zealand’s growing skills shortage, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“We’ve got Chief Executive Stephen Town taking indefinite personal leave, staff reeling against proposed curriculum changes, a $110 million deficit forecast, declining enrolments, a damning Tertiary Education Commission report, and prospects of job losses in the regions to help balance the books.

“Chris Hipkins has spent $200 million on Te Pūkenga and has made New Zealand's vocational education sector worse.

“At a time when New Zealand has critical labour shortages, our major vocational training sector is in dire straits because Chris Hipkins didn’t listen to warnings that his centralised mega polytechnic, Te Pūkenga, was not the right model and was fundamentally flawed from the start.

“Te Pūkenga failings were outlined in a damning report from the Tertiary Education Commission to the Minister earlier this year which contained handwritten comments from Chris Hipkins.

“Chris Hipkins asked what efficiencies they are achieving? If he didn’t know the answer to that, why did he merge the 16 polytechnics in the first place?

“Labour cannot achieve anything. If they cannot successfully merge 16 polytechnics, how on earth can they merge 20 district health boards successfully?

“This country’s polytechnics, their students and staff, and indeed the taxpayers of New Zealand all deserve an explanation from the Minister, or at least some leadership from the man whose idea it was to disassemble this sector."

Government’s mega polytech in turmoil

July 08, 2022 Share

Chris Hipkins needs to front up and explain what is going on at the Government’s mega polytech, Te Pūkenga, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

Staff were told today that Te Pūkenga Chief Executive Stephen Town is taking a leave of absence for personal reasons.

This comes two weeks after the Tertiary Education Union launched a petition calling on the Chief Executive to give his staff more time to develop a curriculum that is fit for purpose.

“The petition states staff are opposed to the pressure being put on them to implement an entirely new curriculum in just a few months.  

“It goes on to say ‘This is an unreasonable request on exhausted staff and risks poor outcomes. Staff need more time for consultation, and to ensure consistency and quality.  Staff are committed to great student experience and well-prepared graduates.  For new curricula to be fit for purpose, staff must be listened to.’   

“Chris Hipkins was warned by the sector that his centralised model wasn’t going to deliver better educational outcomes and be more financially viable but he pushed ahead with it anyway.  Now the vocational sector is in disarray,” says Simmonds.

“The Government needs to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on Chris Hipkins’ ideological dream which is producing worse outcomes for our young people, and instead focus on creating a more effective funding system that supports vocational education.

“Chris Hipkins also needs to explain how many regional jobs are expected to be cut after representatives in the industry were told as many as 600 jobs would be going from September.

“In the 16 months since Te Pūkenga was established, we now have a CE on leave, staff rallying against course content being rushed through, rumours of hundreds of job cuts and, to add insult to injury, Te Pūkenga is expected to make a loss of $110 million in its third year of transition. 

“That is more than the $48 million deficit posted by the 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics before the merger, that created Te Pūkenga at a cost of $200 million.

“In response to a recent Tertiary Education Commission report, Chris Hipkins asked to see a plan for some early wins, and expressed concern around financial sustainability asking what Te Pūkenga is doing to trim costs in response to lower enrolments.”

Budget fails to help struggling Southlanders - Southland Express column

June 20, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in the Southland Express

The Government missed an opportunity, with Budget 2022, to help Southlanders struggling to make ends meet.

In fact, the budget was an insult to the hard-working people of this province, with its lack of direction, and misguided spending, doing little to dig us out of the economic doldrums.

I'm genuinely concerned about what the coming months will hold for Southland families as they continue to fall backwards.

Our country is experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. Inflation is at a 30-year-high and wages aren't keeping up.

Mortgage costs have increased because of rising interest rates, rent is up $140 per week, food price inflation is the highest in a decade, and petrol is up over $3 per litre.

I've heard of local people trading their cars to buy cheaper running vehicles, because of fuel costs, and families cutting back on groceries because prices are too high.

This is not the way of life that we aspire to in Southland.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank Governor confirmed last week, that the very high level of Government spending is putting upward pressure on inflation.

Budget 2022, which included a record $9.5 billion in new annual spending the largest increase in New Zealand's history by far, looks increasingly reckless in light of Adrian Orrs' statement.

New Zealand needs a Government with financial discipline. One that cares how every dollar is spent and not one that is driving a province like Southland backwards

Government must fix mud-ridden Rakiura Track

June 02, 2022 Share

It's up to the Government to get on and fix Stewart Island's deteriorating Rakiura track, after the Department of Conservation recently asked the local community for support to repair it, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

"I have contacted Conservation Minister Kiri Allan highlighting track conditions on the island and have asked her to make maintenance a priority.

"Talk of mud and visitor complaints about track quality are just not good enough, especially for a so-called Great Walk premier track, and I'm shocked that DOC and the Government have allowed these issues to persist.

"However, there's now no excuse with the Government announcing $60 million in new DOC funding to 'maintain high quality visitor assets,' including tracks and huts, in its Budget 2022.

"At a time when we're welcoming back international visitors, and the people of Stewart Island are relying on tourism to boost the local economy, I think it is inexcusable that we have a Government managed asset like this that is being run down.

"And how miserable for DOC staff to have to go cap in hand to the local community for help, wanting to access $425,000 from the island's recently-increased visitor levy fund, to fix its track - rather than getting support from Wellington.

"To that end, I have written to the Minister of Conservation highlighting this issue and requesting that maintenance funding for this track be made a priority."

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Cost of living crisis affecting mothers - Southland Express column

May 30, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in the Southland Express

Mums always try to do the best for their families, but as we approach Mother’s Day on Sunday (8/5) the current cost of living crisis is putting many under pressure.

A recent Westpac survey, looking at inflation, showed that one third of households feared they couldn’t cope financially, with groceries, petrol and household bills a major concern.

Significantly, the burden of this financial worry often falls on women, with 53 percent of female respondents extremely concerned about rising living costs, as opposed to 39 percent of men.

I meet these women around Invercargill and Southland - they are hardworking, kind and thoughtful.

Many of them, particularly mothers, handle the finances for the family, do the groceries, fuel the car, and carry the burden of worrying about rising costs.
It’s hard to hear that your money is worth less, when you have very little in the first place.

And it’s these mums who often make sacrifices - eating less dinner so their kids have more, sacrificing their clothes so the children have shoes, waiting longer for a haircut, missing a dental appointment, or doing an extra shift at work to make ends meet.

As we approach Mothers’ Day on Sunday, I want to acknowledge everything that these brave women do in tough financial times.

I’d also like to ask Finance Minister Grant Robertson to consider the sacrifice and worry that he expects mothers to cope with, while his Government continues to ignore the current cost of living crisis.