What if voting made you healthier?

My daughters live virtual lives online without the embarrassing presence of their mother trying too hard to be hip – except at elections.

Kate Sheppard crossing lights in WellingtonI’m proud to vote in a country that first gave women the vote. I’d like my girls and their friends to get the same thrill from the right of suffrage that I do. I’ll embarrass them in the virtual world if it gets them to vote.

Strange then that my girls aren’t keen. They tell me that many their age can’t see that voting makes any difference. They feel daunted by not knowing where to look for information or what to ask of candidates.

It’s easier than they think to find information. You’ve probably already started seeing news articles and advertisements about this year’s local elections, which will be held by postal vote in September and October. Local elections are held every three years and are your chance to vote for the people who make up both your local council and district health board (DHB).

DHBs are responsible for health services provided in their district. This includes ensuring that health assets – such as hospital buildings and clinical equipment – are fit for purpose and will be able to meet demand for services now and in the future.

Our recent report District health boards’ response to asset management requirements since 2009 describes a health sector strongly focused on delivering short-term results. But we all know the sector faces long-term challenges of rising demand for services and for access to better technologies, exacerbated by an ageing population.

Behind these results are the physical assets that are used to deliver services. In 2015, DHBs had $5.7 billion invested in physical assets and more than $6 billion worth of planned capital spending during the next 10 years.  It would be good to know these assets are looked after and updated to keep delivering health services in the long term.

Unfortunately, as it stands now, it doesn’t look like the information available about health assets is good enough to allow good choices about these matters to be made for health services now and in the future.

Standard asset management practices, like knowing, monitoring, and reporting on the condition and performance of assets and having integrated asset, service, and financial plans do not seem to be standard practice for more than half of DHBs.

Since 2009, fewer than half of DHBs showed indicators of asset spending and building up money to pay for future assets at levels we think characterise good financial and asset management.

You have a chance this year to make a vote that is good for your health. Although it can feel daunting, you can use the upcoming local elections to ask the powerful questions that will ensure that DHBs can meet the health service needs of future New Zealanders. And they don’t necessarily have to be questions for candidates. Ask yourself: what do you expect from the public health sector in the future? What matters to you?

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