15 Jun 2020

Cash injection brings relief but anxiety over longterm funding remains

8:53 am on 15 June 2020

An injection of money into cash-strapped community health care services is expected to cover most of the immediate extra costs from Covid-19 but anxiety over long-term funding remains.

Cropped image of a midwife measuring blood pressure of a pregnant woman

Midwives are being compensated for handling more home births and also soothing anxious patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: 123RF

More than $92 million will go into essential health services that suffered financially during Covid-19, as well as into testing labs and ventilators.

It is the first instalment of $59-billion worth of funding from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

Midwives, community pharmacies and hospices will all get cash in a bid to alleviate some of the hardship caused by Covid-19.

Hospices will get just over $7m.

Hospice New Zealand chief executive Mary Schumacher said this should cover most of the losses.

"One day the hospice shops - which are a lifeline for hospices - were open and then of course the next day we had to close them, so that was an immediate drop.

"For some hospices it was up to nearly 50 percent of their income but also fundraising was an issue as well as all sorts of things had to be cancelled or postponed," she said.

Schumacher said it's also time for a more certain and consistent approach to funding hospices.

"Hospices at the moment are funded about 50 percent of their operating costs, so we have a real challenge ahead about how we can move forward."

A new funding model was being considered by government but the pandemic has halted its progress, she said.

"We are wanting to work with the Ministry on this."

Payment to compensate midwives for extra expenses

Midwives will get $2500 in their pocket within the next two weeks. This will come out of an allocated $5m for the sector. The rest will go into locum relief.

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Alison Eddy Photo: supplied

Alison Eddy from the College of Midwives said during the lockdown, midwives had to deal with more home births, reduced support services like Plunket, and anxious patients.

They also had to pay for added costs themselves, including personal protective equipment (PPE).

"Travel costs as well, a lot more visiting in the community because care wasn't as available in the hospital, and a lot more time spent with women in the community, plus phone and communication costs - midwives were saying their phones were running hot."

The cash payment will provide a bit of relief but is unlikely to fully cover an individual midwife's costs.

Like hospices, midwives face uncertainty about what the long-term funding plan is, Eddy said.

"We've been working with the Ministry now for a number of years to develop a funding model. We're still working under the terms of the mediation agreement and it's very frustrating we don't have any clarity or certainty about what the future looks like."

Community pharmacies will receive $18m - to increase services such as virtual triage and virtual counselling.

The Pharmacy Guild wasn't available to comment on the announcement.

Community pharmacy group Green Cross Health also declined to comment, saying they didn't yet know the details of the funding.

Testing at border to be ramped up

The largest chunk of cash - $37 million - will go to increasing Covid-19 testing, primarily at the border.

Health Minister David Clark said testing is critical as the virus still rages around the globe.

Of the remaining funding, $10m will be shared among the District Health Boards for ventilators, which can cost $80,000 each, and respiratory equipment.

This funding is over and above the 408 ventilators the government has already ordered.

Just under $15m will go towards the national telehealth service, which aims to strengthen contact tracing.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

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