17 May 2018

Budget 2018: Health spending more conservative than forecast

7:19 pm on 17 May 2018

The government will extend free doctors visits' and prescriptions to under-14s and also make visits cheaper for people eligible for a Community Services Card.

Minister of Health David Clark talking with journalists

Minister of Health David Clark talking with journalists Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

However, ahead of the election Labour promised to slash the cost of doctors' visits for everybody by $10 by July, but since conceded it wouldn't meet that goal.

An estimated 540,000 people will benefit from the cheaper GP visits, saving between $20 and $30 a visit.

Anyone living in state housing or receiving the accommodation supplement will now also be eligible for one of those community cards.

That comes at a cost $362.7 million and the extension of free doctors' visits for people under 14 - $22m over four years.

Both come into effect on 1 December.

Midwives also get a boost - with $103.6m over four years to support community midwifery services, plus $9m over 2017 and 2018. About half will go toward an 8.9 percent increase in fees for more than 1400 lead maternity carers.

The nurses in schools programme will be extended to decile four secondary schools - meaning an extra 24,000 students have access to that support.

The government has also announced a big boost in spending to help rebuild and maintain aging hospital and health infrastructure.

It will put $750m of new money to tackle building problems - that's $600m more than National pledged last Budget.

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Photo: 123RF

The government will put aside $100m which will be available to district health boards to draw upon should they need extra support.

Overall spending in health has been bumped up $3.2 billion over four years, an extra $1bn over what was announced in last year's Budget.

The bowel screening programme will be extended to a further five DHBs, as well as funding for a new national coordination centre, and four regional centres.

Work will begin on introducing a free annual health check, including vision for SuperGold card holders. This is part of the coalition agreement between New Zealand First and Labour.

As part of its confidence and supply deal with the Greens, the government committed $10.5m towards a pilot programme to develop integrated mental health therapies for young people.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government had already announced an inquiry into mental health and addiction to identify gaps and what other services might be needed.

Future government budgets would give more funding to mental health after the inquiry had identified priorities.

More money is going into the country's air ambulance service to renew the helicopter fleet.

The health minister said much of the fleet was aging and many were only single-engine.

New funding of $60m over four years, along with an extra $22.9m from the Accident Compensation Corporation, will be used to strengthen existing services and begin to modernise the fleet.

See RNZ's full Budget 2018 coverage here.

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