By: Emma Russell
Labour’s pre-election promise to pump $8 billion into health over the next four years has given the sector high hopes ahead of the Budget.
Addressing holes in mental health services, primary care, strained staffing and under-resourced infrastructure were promises Labour made throughout the election campaign.
Health Minister David Clark has said all were pressure points neglected by the last government.
But will they be met in the Budget?
Toxic mould discovered at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital early this year has put infrastructure high up the list of demands.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists director of policy and research Lyndon Keene said due to years of under-funding, district health board’s had focused on immediate surface needs at the expense maintaining buildings.
“What we have now is many millions of deferred maintenance of buildings that needs to be addressed and on top of that we’ve got new buildings.”
The government has forecast health boards need $14 billion for capital alone over the next 10 years.
Keene said it was a huge amount of money that needed to be found but he believed the cost could be more.
“I can only hope this will be taken into account in the Budget.”
He said staffing was also a critical pressure point that needed tackling.
“More than 50 per cent of private specialists are reporting symptoms of burnout and we know that nurses are under considerable strain. A lot are working extra hours to cover patient care and missing breaks because hospitals are not fully staffed.”
New Zealand Nursing Organisation (NZNO) associate manager professional services, Hilary Graham-Smith, said health boards did not have the ability to recruit the required nurses and midwives.
“We know nurses feel very unsafe in places they work because of the lack of staff which means patient care is compromised.”
Labour has also promised to raise the number of GP training places to 300, up from 200.
Lesley Clarke, chief executive of the New Zealand Medical Association, said it was unlikely to happen straight away but was much needed.
“Taking the intake to 300 per year would mean more than half of all medical students would be going directly into workforce.”
Clarke said the NZMA’s priority was ensuring primary health care access for the vulnerable.
“That’s what’s going fix long term problems in the health system.”
Despite promising a $10 reduction for GP visits by July, the Government has said this can’t be met fully.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Radio New Zealand Labour had not over-promised but having come into office the extent of the issues became clearer.
“It’s all very well to have to have the pre-election update on a spreadsheet but the reality of getting into government and seeing the conditions of our hospitals, of our schools … that means you have to have a look again at your priorities and your sequencing.
“But the plan that we’ve got, stands.”
Filling the gaps in mental health services was raised through Labour’s election campaign with an allotted $43m investment over the next two years.
The Government has followed through with an inquiry to investigate the gaps with submissions due by June 5.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson, said he expected this Budget to be just the beginning of the government’s investment into mental health but hopes it will follow through on the foundation’s recomendations.
“We’d like to see increased emphasis on prevention, communities that are better equipped to help each other, and easier access to a wider range of effective choices in mental health support that centre individuals, their identities and support networks.”
Robinson said the foundation had been having discussions with the government to ensure those needs would be met.
“The education sector has been an area of focus as it plays an important role to play in nurturing and supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing.”
Source: NZ Herald
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