19 January 2012

New Zealand opts for Mickey Mouse micro-targets

Cancer patients who need chemotherapy should receive it within four weeks of being assessed, under new [New Zealand] government health targets. The cancer target at present requires hospitals to provide radiation therapy within four weeks of assessment. From July 1, hospitals would also have to ensure that patients needing chemotherapy received treatment within four weeks. Source
It's a shame that the New Zealand Government has learned nothing from other countries' mistakes. Targets like this have nothing to do with the broader health of the population. They will be so manipulated as to become meaningless or, worse, divert resources into (apparent) compliance and away from health care. In the UK, for instance, we have seen ambulances delaying their arrival at hospitals, so that targets for seeing patients within four hours of arrival can be met. It's not difficult to imagine ways in which New Zealand's new chemotherapy target will be similarly gamed, at the expense of people's health. This is the sort of micro-management that did so much to cripple the Soviet Union. Private corporations with a narrow focus on a few accountancy ratios are prone to similar errors. In theory at least competitive pressure would ensure that the mismatch between targets and reality cannot continue to worsen indefinitely. (In practice, if the corporations are big enough, they subvert government and change the rules.) But when government applies these micro-targets, there's little to bring them back into line. High-sounding, well-meaning experiments like this are rarely terminated.

We need to bring government back to its core focus: if its goal is to improve the health of its citizens, that's what it should target. Let a competitive private sector work out how best to achieve that goal. Government can still set broad health targets, and it can, and should, raise the revenue to achieve those goals. But it cannot possibly keep up to date with science, nor respond adequately to changing events or diverse circumstances. Only something like a Social Policy Bond regime, where people are rewarded for being efficient achievers of meaningful targets, can do that.

No comments: