Budget 2016: Cash-strapped health sector receives record $2.2b shot in the arm
A record $2.2b injection into the health sector will boost the coffers of cash-strapped District Health Boards, but Opposition parties are predicting a $50m shortfall.
And while the Government has announced the rollout of a a National Bowel Screening Programme, Labour is questioning why its avoided starting in the DHB regions most in need.
The measures were unveiled as a major health package in Finance Minister Bill English's eighth budget.
It also included a 10 per cent increase in tobacco tax, each year to 2020 - ultimately taking the price of pack of cigarettes to $30.
Health would receive $568m in the 2016-17 financial year - the biggest increase in seven years, and almost $170m more than they received last year.
DHBs would receive an extra $400m - a jump on last year's boost of $320m in additional funding each year for four years.
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The level of funding for health comes as little surprise, given a Government battle against negative headlines that some services were reaching "crisis levels" of resourcing.
A numbers war between Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King has seen the former forced defend opposition figures that $1.7b had been effectively stripped from the health budget since National took Government.
Coleman said the Government's overall level of investment in health would reach a record $16.1 billion.
"Delivering better health services remains this Government's number one funding priority.
"Budget 2016 delivers on that by investing an extra $2.2b in health over four years for new initiatives and to meet cost pressures and population growth."
Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said the funding was "not really a boost at all".
"The increase in funding won't keep up with cost pressures which include population growth, aging, inflation and wage increases.
"In fact it will be $50 million short per year and do nothing to reverse the $1.7 billion underfunding of past six years," she said.
"Health spending goes from 6.1 per cent of GDP to 5.2 per cent over four years. This is a 9 per cent drop in real per person health spending over four years."
The extra funding over the next four years included the already-announced $124m for Pharmac over four years, and $39.3m to start the staggered rollout of a national bowel screening programme.
Beginning with Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs in 2017, it would later be rolled out nationally although no timeframe was given.
"Once fully implemented, the programme is expected to screen over 700,000 people every two years," said Coleman.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates for bowel cancer in the OECD, around 3000 are diagnosed and the disease kills more than 1200 Kiwis every year.
The Government has been working toward a national rollout for a number of years, but a lack of staff to perform the numbers of colonoscopies required has hampered a screening programme.
A pilot project, running since 2012 in Waitemata DHB, has produced significant results.
In the first two years of the programme, more than 67,500 people completed a bowel-screening test and more than 4300 people with a positive result went on to have a colonoscopy.
More than 160 of those were found to have cancer.
Coleman said a business case for the national rollout would go to Cabinet soon. Once in place, DHBs would offer people aged 60-74 a bowel screening test every two years.
More than 80 per cent of cancers found in the Waitemata pilot were in that age group.
But King has criticised the Government for avoiding the DHBs most in need.
"I think this is a rushed announcement and they've done it all wrong. The highest incident, and death rate, of bowel cancer in New Zealand is in Southern DHB.
"Why wouldn't you start where you could save the most lives?"
NZ First health spokeswoman Barbara Stewart said the programme was underfunded before it began.
"Information released to New Zealand First by the Ministry of Health shows that a national screening programme should cost $26 million annually to implement successfully.
"Yet today's Budget announcement provides only $39 million over the next four years – this is a $15 million shortfall for the programme every year," she said.
Among the initiatives the Government will be funding in the health sector is an additional $96m for more elective surgeries, and $42m for a suite of measures targeted towards vulnerable groups.
That included $18m to expand the Healthy Homes Initiative, $12m to support primary healthcare access to mental health services and $12m to expand a programme that provides intensive alcohol and drug support for pregnant women.
The $2.2b Health Package in full:
$1.6b over four years to DHBs
$124m to Pharmac, for access to new medicines
$96m for more elective surgeries
$169m for disability support services
$39m for as bowel cancer screening programme
$73m for primary healthcare, including free GP visits and prescriptions for under 13s
$15m to support ambulance services, both air and road
$12m to mental health services
$12m to expand an alcohol and drug treatment rehabilitation and support service for pregnant women
A 10 per cent increase in tobacco tax on January 1, each year from 2017-2020.