In the recent Budget by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, the Health sector was the centrepiece. It managed to capture a whopping $11.1 billion in funding as the government presses ahead to replace DHBs with a centralised health service. The government said that was the most significant investment ever in the health system.
“Budget 2022 provides the largest investment ever in our health system, with $11.1 billion in new funding, over four years, to put that system on a sustainable financial footing. This will ensure that Health New Zealand and the Maori Health Authority can make the changes needed to deliver better health services to New Zealanders, wherever they live.
Minister of Health Andrew Little also announced a $102m boost for community healthcare and $86m for GPs in high need areas as part of Budget 2022.
However, professional bodies for medical experts feel that the Budget missed its mark.
Sharing her take on the Budget, Dr Samantha Murton, President, The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP), says, "The $102 million boost for community healthcare is welcomed, but sadly the funding does not address the issue of getting more medical professionals trained and working as specialist general practitioners in the community. While GPs are not the only answer, we are trained to provide complex medical treatment that can catch issues early and keep people out of hospitals. With the borders being closed for over two years, we are short on numbers of GPs now, and there seems to be nothing specific in the Budget to address that.”
Unfortunately, according to Murton, the situation is such that there is a shortage of people to give training to new doctors or medical staff. “We do not have enough people to train new medical students as healthcare staff across the board are overburdened. It is not just general practitioners who are fatigued – so are the nursing staff and our practice teams. The bottom line is that we need more of us if we want the situation to improve. We must put the needs of our patients and our communities at the heart of our health system,” says Murton.
The medical associations feel that the Budget should have focussed on the ground issues that affect healthcare professionals as just reshaping the financial base of the health system is not enough.
Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (a union for salaried doctors and dentists) Sarah Dalton feels that the actual need is to address workforce shortage and the ever-increasing increase in wait time for patients during their visit to a doctor, among others.
“While it’s good to see some increased investment in health, with wage growth predicted to remain high, it’s time for the new agency Health NZ to step up and address lagging salaries for our public health workforce. After so many years of desperate underinvestment in health, if we want to get ahead of our burgeoning health need, we need several budgets with substantial real funding increases to address the unmet patient need and workforce shortages."
Advocacy group General Practice New Zealand (GPNZ), which provides a strong national voice on behalf of organised primary care, advocating for the wellbeing of New Zealanders by supporting high-quality general practice and community-based services, also pointed out that while the health reforms are pretty rightly based on the premise of strengthening primary care but there is a long way to go.
GPNZ Chair and Karori GP, Dr Jeff Lowe ‘The Budget feel like a reset, with much-needed spending going into medicines, mental health and dealing with DHB debt, and obvious steps towards addressing Aotearoa's unacceptable and persistent health inequities. We hope to see the funding going into the essential care that communities need daily from general practice and other primary care providers.' Dr Lowe said
“Our GPs are overwhelmed before we even get into winter, and we have a critical workforce shortage, so we need to see that money flowing now to ensure the sustainability of services,” signs off Lowe.
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