Grey Power secretary Stu Maxwell told CI News a number of elderly citizens were at present very ill and in deteriorating health condition in Rarotonga Hospital, waiting for referrals to New Zealand for medical treatment.
He claimed the excuse for the delay given by the Health ministry was that “there are insufficient funds to transfer these patients and companions to New Zealand.”
However Health secretary Elizabeth Iro any delays in referrals had nothing to do with insufficient funds.
She said any issues were more to do with patients complying with the Cook Islands Ministry of Health Patient Referral Policy 2015. The policy provides objectives and guidelines for patient transfers within the Cook Islands and for the overseas referral system.
The Health ministry continued to make referrals according to the policy, Iro said.
“The patient referral policy clearly identifies the process for MOH making any patient referrals to New Zealand.
“I would be happy to talk to Mr Maxwell about his concern and if he could identify the patients of concern or make this known to the (ward) doctor in charge at the hospital,” Iro said.
A frustrated Maxwell says government should invest in the health of senior citizens rather than spending on issues for their own political gain.
In a letter to CI News he said Grey Power members were hoping the government would “sprinkle” some of the surplus recorded in the second quarter of the last financial year into safeguarding health of the people.
“While they say there isn’t enough money, we witnessed last year the expensive special plane charter to Manihiki for the Prime Minister’s (Henry Puna) house renovations, and more recently, the trip by the prime minister, Mark Brown and some other MPs on an election jaunt to the northern group, masquerading as a consultation with local fishermen to explain the purse seine fishing agreement with the EU.
“The cost of these events would have more than adequately cornered the cost of air fares to New Zealand for these suffering elderly people.”
Finance minister Mark Brown said the government was in the process of topping up the health referral budget by $200,000 to enable the health ministry to meet the increased demand for patient referrals to New Zealand and for patients travelling from the outer islands.
The health referral budget for this year is $550,000.
“This is a standard procedure where we allocate a set amount, then top up as the need necessitates,” Brown said.
“The pharmaceutical budget is $817,000 for the purchase of medicines and drugs. This year, due to significant increase in demand, the government has already topped up this budget by $150,000 through Executive Order, ECM (16)051.”
Iro said the ministry continued to work with Air New Zealand to ensure patients were transferred on commercial flights.
“This helps to reduce cost. However, when we have had to charter flights to air ambulance a patient to New Zealand, the costs is approximately $102,000 a time, and the charter to the northern group islands for emergency cases is around $26,000 per charter. There have been four charters this year alone.”
Because of the cost of chartered flights and the increase in demand for medical referrals, Iro said the Health ministry had requested additional funding from government in February.