18 May 2023

Budget 2023: Govt to remove funded prescription cost and aims to cut surgery waitlists

4:32 pm on 18 May 2023

Patients will no longer have to top up the cost of their prescription medicines, in one of few new investments for health this Budget.

Most of the health spending for this year was announced in 2022 - a record $11.1 billion to be spread over four years.

This year's announcements focused mostly on how this year's chunk of that pot would be spent.

* Follow RNZ's live 2023 Budget blog here.

That included a big promise with a major caveat - to have no one waiting longer than a year for surgery by mid-2024, excluding orthopaedic patients.

Ditching the prescription co-payment was new spending, to the tune of $619 million over four years.

From July, patients will no longer have to pay $5 every time they pick up a funded prescription.

Wellbeing Budget 2023.

From July, patients will no longer have to pay $5 every time they pick up a funded prescription. Photo: RNZ // Angus Dreaver

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in the 2021-2022 financial year, 135,000 did not pick up their medicine because of the cost.

It would ease pressure on other parts of the health system by making sure patients got their medicine on time, Verrall said.

Read more on Budget 2023:

In terms of how roughly $1bn of this year's allocated funding would be spent, the government said it wanted to slash surgical wait lists but provided few details of how.

From June next year, it said it expected no one to be waiting longer than 12 months for an operation once a decision to treat was made.

However, that did not extend to orthopaedic patients, including those needing hip and knee replacements, who were among the longest waiting on the current lists.

Ayesha Verrall

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall hopes the prescription cost removal will ease pressure on other parts of the health system. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Efforts to cut long waits have been slow since Te Whatu Ora first prioritised it last year, and there were no major details of how it would improve.

Some of the $118m allocated would be used to free up hospital ward beds, which was aimed at stopping "bed block", where hospitals were so full that they could not fit in more patients. But again with few details about how.

About $63m had been allocated for what is known as safe staffing - which included funding for 500 more nurses - to make sure there were enough health workers to keep them and their patients safe.

The budget also outlined $10m saving from the merger of the 20 district health boards into Te Whatu Ora last year, including from executive job cuts.

It said there had been other savings in insurance.

The only other new spending announced was $14m over four years to lift minimum wages for health and disability support workers, an initiative announced last year.

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