16 May 2014

Labour says health changes political

11:41 pm on 16 May 2014

The Labour Party says Budget health changes are highly political and will do nothing to ease pressures on hospitals.

The Health Minister, Tony Ryall, said the Budget provided about $320 million for district health boards next year for extra services and to help meet cost pressures and population changes.

But Labour's Health spokesperson, Annette King, said DHBs had to save money to get the $320 million.

Annette King said she supported the free GP visits for children under 13, but overall the Budget represented a 2.3 percent cut in real terms for health.

The Government said the funding was part of a record $15.6 billion in total health spending next year.

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Photo: 123RF

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the Budget announced on Thursday would make $1.8 billion available for health over the next four years for new initiatives and to meet cost and population pressures.

He said that was made up of $1.39 billion of new money and $412 million of savings.

Making GP visits and prescriptions free for children under the age of 13 from 1 July next year would cost $90 million and would benefit more than 400,000 primary school-aged children and their families.

It would mean primary school-age children could go to the doctor free at any time of the day or night, and would help remove pressure from busy hospital emergency departments.

Of 1029 practices nationwide, 1004 currently offered free visits to under six-year-olds.

"It's quite clear from the under-sixes programme that it does have benefits for these kids and families, and we want to extend that to the under-13s," Mr Ryall said.

GP practices get $23.7 million extra over four years, and there is $8.9 million for rural GPs and $13.3 million to extend low-cost doctors' visits.

More operations

The Government will spend an extra $110 million over four years on more non-urgent surgery, including hip and knee operations.

The funding includes $10 million over the same period for weight loss - or bariatric - operations.

Mr Ryall said that would offer more than 120 people weight-loss surgery and follow-up care each year.

Elective surgery made a difference by reducing pain, restoring independence and improving quality of life, and the number of people receiving it had risen by 40,000 a year since 2008, to 158,000 last year, he said.

Boost for cancer

The Budget contains an extra $32.7 million over four years for better cancer services and more support for patients.

It will provide specialist psychological staff for cancer centres and up to 20 cancer support workers in major hospitals to ensure patients get good counselling.

Within the cancer funding is an extra $8 million to help reduce waiting times for the colonoscopy procedures, which are crucial for detecting bowel cancer.

Mr Ryall said more than 20,000 New Zealanders were diagnosed with cancer every year, and the number would rise as the population aged.

The country's six cancer centres would get a specialist psychologist to ensure emotional needs of patients were properly assessed, so they and their families got the support they needed.

As well, up to 20 cancer support workers would work in major hospitals to provide counselling, Mr Ryall said.

The new cancer spending includes $5.4 million for breast and cervical screening programmes, to improve services.

$112.1m extra for disability support

The Budget also contains an extra $112.1 million for disability support services to meet rising needs and costs, and $96 million for home-based support services.

Disability spending includes $6 million over four years for vocational support services for school leavers with disabilities who are entering the Very High Needs Scheme; $3.8 million over the next two years to extend the Enabling Good Lives disability support approach for Waikato; and $6 million over four years to set up a group to promote sign language.

Post-graduate education and training of doctors receives $17.8 million, and $4 million will go towards more kidney transplants.

Mr Ryall said the Government has invested an extra $3.34 billion of new operating and capital funding into health in the past five years.

Careful management of the health budget has lead to DHBs reducing deficits from an estimated $200 million to about $25 million, excluding Canterbury, he said.

That had allowed the Government to invest more money into new health initiatives.

Whanau Ora received new funding of $15 million over three years from the next financial year for work of so-called navigators who support whanau and families to develop a plan to meet their needs and access services.

A further $8.6 million over four years will go to meeting needs at Youth One Stop Shops.

Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kaye said the Youth One Stop Shops were funded to provide health care to young people but the extra was needed for social support for such things as accommodation and counselling.

Elder care, including for those with dementia, will be boosted by $40 million, with further details to be announced later.

The Government's new community-based, anti-obesity initiative, Healthy Families NZ, also gets $40 million.


Nurses said while there were a number of good initiatives in the budget, the failure to address DHB funding to the levels required to maintain current services is disappointing amnd will result in increased pressure on nurses.

It also said there was nothing specified for addressing pay equity issues in aged care and very little for Maori health services.

The Rural General Practice Network says: "The free care for under 6s has been provided at the expense of reduced incomes for practice owners and how the $90 million to make GP visits and prescriptions free for children aged under 13 from July 1, 2015 will be managed will be extremely interesting to watch.

"A free-at-the-point-of-care service is very attractive and laudable, one which we would in principle support, but it has to be done in a way that is affordable."

Full coverage of the 2014 Budget