'Debate needed' on health spending

MATHEW GROCOTT MATHEW.GROCOTT@MSL.CO.NZ
Last updated 10:25 16/05/2014

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Big winners in health are parents with children under 13, who will have free access to GPs from the middle of next year. The various funding announcements also mean increased access to the likes of elective surgeries, cancer treatment, disability support services and renal transplants. MidCentral DHB chairman Phil Sunderland said the funding initiatives by and large matched the areas of greatest need in the health sector.

The 2014 Budget has included another boost to health funding, but the head of Massey University's College of Health says such increases are not sustainable in the long term and a new approach is needed.

Professor Paul McDonald said the Budget featured the "usual array of goodies" in terms of increased funding for various services and health issues.

The "goodies" this year include an extra $110 million for elective surgeries to provide an increased number of operations such as hip replacements.

The programme of free doctor's visits for children under 6 will be extended to children under 13 next year at a cost of $90m.

An extra $32.7m has been added to provide faster cancer treatment while $40m has been provided to support elderly people, including dementia sufferers.

There is also an extra $112m for disability support services and $40m for a healthy families campaign to encourage Kiwis to eat better and exercise more.

That final spend is likely to be more to McDonald's liking. The professor, who moved to New Zealand from Canada last year, said much more emphasis needed to be put in to preventing illnesses.

Spending more money up front on preventative measures would save the country from providing costly treatments down the line, he said.

As it stands, health is the second biggest spending area for the Government, behind social development, with $15.6 billion to be spent in 2014/15, a record amount and 5.4 per cent more than this year.

McDonald said a debate was needed on what health spending would look like long term.

As for health spending in the short term, MidCentral District Health Board chairman Phil Sunderland said the Budget had targeted the areas where more spending was needed.

"There are a whole lot of new initiatives that, from our perspective, really improves the whole health system," he said.

The result would be better services for patients in an array of areas.

A former chairman of the Manawatu branch of the Cancer Society, Sunderland was particularly pleased to see more money for cancer treatment and support people.

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- Manawatu Standard

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