Health cuts show Government 'squeezing too hard' - Labour

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King says the Government has "systematically underfunded" the health system.
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King says the Government has "systematically underfunded" the health system.

Health funding has been slashed by $1.7 billion in the last five years, according to data commissioned by Labour. 

Opposition health spokeswoman Annette King said the figures showed the Government was "squeezing too hard and investing too little".

The release of the figures follow leaked documents revealing proposals for wholesale changes to the governance and funding of district health boards.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the health sector has received record amounts of funding.
David Walker/Fairfax NZ

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the health sector has received record amounts of funding.

Labour's Infometrics report shows health funding has been cut in four of the last six Budgets.

A shortfall of $500 million this year took the total funding slash to $1.7b since 2010.

The party asked Infometrics to use public sources to estimate the change in Core Crown health expenditure since the 2009-10 financial year and marry that up with inflation and demographic characteristics.

It found Core Crown health expenditure nominally increased from about $13.1b in 2009-10 to about $15.6b in this financial year. 

It was $485m lower than the expenditure growth required to maintain 2009-10 funding levels, taking into account inflation and population growth. 

"The Government paints this as a 'quest for efficiencies'. That is only one part of the picture," King said.

"DHBs are facing a financial double whammy, confronted by rising costs - due to factors such as cost pressures, demographic changes and an ageing population - at the same time they are being told to make savings of millions of dollars."

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She said that left a health sector that no longer had the ability "to provide Kiwis with high quality safe patient care, where and when it is needed".

It was "glaringly obvious" the health system had been "systematically underfunded for the last few years".

"Over half of the country's district health boards are running deficits. Indications from Treasury are that cost pressures will only intensify over the next few years, requiring ever more significant changes to the health system."

But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the health sector was well-funded, though more work was required to target funding where it was needed.

"There's enough funding overall. I mean we've got $15.9b - it's record amounts.

"We want to move funding away from expensive hospitals and into communities so we have early intervention, we have preventative measures so we keep people out of hospitals, and prevent them from getting really unwell in the first place."

Coleman's comments come after he was forced to allay fears the Government was planning to overhaul the entire governance and funding structures of DHBs, when two sections of a high-level report were leaked detailing major proposals for change.

The document, commissioned by Director-General of Health Chai Chuah, suggests removing the control of DHBs from elected representatives in a proposed overhaul of their governance structure and withholding money if they missed targets. Boards would bid for shares of funding pools.

Coleman said neither of those documents were Government policy, and they were unlikely to be progressed. 

But more transparency around funding decisions would be needed, as the Government tried to shift more funding into primary health care, he said.

 - Stuff

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