Make it the Norm: Doctors’ prescription for a nation’s health

23 Mahuru / September 2020

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says if our country can get four things right, improved health and wellbeing outcomes will follow.

Today the RACP launches its advocacy campaign #MakeItTheNorm ahead of the 2020 Election, calling for action on four things that can make or break good health and wellbeing.

“These four things are summed up in those words most famously associated with Norman Kirk”, said Dr George Laking (Te Whakatōhea), a medical oncologist and the RACP’s Aotearoa NZ President.

“Somewhere to live – a healthy home is a human right. Someone to love – all whānau enjoy wellbeing. Something to do – everyone has good work. Something to hope for – there needs to be justice and equity.”

“This is the starting point for the RACP’s work to #MakeItTheNorm.”

#MakeItTheNorm is informed by the evidence for action on the social determinants of health, like poor housing, insecure work and low wages, and inequitable health outcomes. The campaign is shaped by the knowledge and experiences of RACP members – medical specialists working in hospitals and communities across Aotearoa NZ.

Dr Laking says that action now on the social determinants of health will end what he calls the “revolving door of health care”.

“People will come into hospital for treatment, for pneumonia, or bronchiectasis – but we are sending them and their whānau right back to the environments that made them sick in the first place”.

The RACP says that many of the health issues experienced by people are preventable if the foundations are right – healthy homes to grow, live and play in, and good jobs that pay a living wage.

“Aotearoa NZ is a wealthy country. The conditions we see in our hospitals, like rheumatic fever, bronchiectasis, congenital syphilis – these are rare in other OECD countries. Good health can be the norm if we work together”.

The challenges facing Aotearoa require long-term investment and sustained action, and the RACP urges political parties and civil society to make changes now to realise an equitable future.

“Our vision is for a just and equitable society for when our nation commemorates 200 years since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 2040.”

“The evidence is clear. The RACP is calling for action which will improve the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. Actions like Warrants of Fitness under the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act. Doubling legislated sick leave to 10 days per year. Stopping prompt payment discounts for energy bills. Increasing main benefit rates. These are actions that will mean New Zealanders live longer, healthier lives, and good health is the norm”.

RACP recommendations:

Make healthy housing the norm because a healthy home is a human right

  • End prompt payment discounts for energy bills.
  • Introduce a mandatory Warrant of Fitness under the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act 2018 to verify compliance under the legislation.
  • Build all new public housing to universal design principles.

Make Good Work the norm because incomes must enable whānau to live with dignity

  • Double minimum sick leave allowances in the Holidays Act 2003 to 10 days per year.
  • The Living Wage is implemented, with the same rate applied to contractors and employees.
  • Legislation is amended to improve conditions for contractors and gig workers.

Make whānau wellbeing the norm by ensuring our environments support health

  • End food insecurity and take a life-course approach to nutrition from pre-conception through childhood, adolescence and adulthood to older age.
  • Revisit the Law Commission’s recommendations for alcohol legislation reform, with a view to implementation.
  • Mental health and wellbeing initiatives announced in the 2019 Budget are implemented as a priority to support people and whānau through COVID-19.

Make health equity the norm to support just and equitable health outcomes

  • Health resources are prioritised according to equity and need, delivered by a culturally-safe and pro-equity workforce.
  • A Public Health Commission is re-established with oversight of all core public health functions including management of public health units; regulation of products like tobacco and alcohol, and contract tracing capacity for all notifiable infectious diseases.
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