Monday, 15 August 2011

Bubbling Up Down Under

A medical colleague in New Zealand said: fancy the doctors taking a lead on social determinants of health! You have opened another front.
The New Zealand Medical Association has produced an excellent statement of the importance of health equity for New Zealand, building on the findings of Fair Society Healthy Lives. (see here) One of the pleasures of the social movement we have been trying to create is that while on the one hand we rely on analyses of data and synthesis of evidence, on the other, much of the action comes through personal relationships.
The immediate past chair of the NZMA, Peter Foley, had come to the BMA meeting a year ago where I was installed as President. He heard me do my best to bring the BMA with me on the social determinants agenda, and said: we should be doing this in New Zealand. He convinced me to visit and organised several events around it in Auckland and Wellington, organised by the present chair, Paul Ockelford, and Don Simmers. In Wellington, the capital, the Minister of Health opened the symposium. I was told that it was not just his speech writer who had read our English report but the minister had read it himself and referred to it liberally in setting out what they were doing.
A parliamentary breakfast, meetings with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, and public servants, plus the board of the NZMA helped.  Len Cook, who was head of national statistics in New Zealand and the UK suggested that the UK is good on analysis not so good on implementation; in New Zealand, it is the converse: not so good on analysis but good at getting things done. He related this to scale. There is more intellectual fire power in the UK but it is more difficult to implement things.
The Board of the NZMA then met to consider further action – the feedback was all positive. If the NZMA do lead the charge in New Zealand it will be an important example for other countries to follow.

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