Cuts in budget bruise New Zealanders’ health

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi

Wellington, July 18, 2018

New Zealanders are right to wonder when the stream of cuts by stealth in the health sector will come to a halt under the shaky leadership of Health Minister David Clark.

There have been cuts for the young, cuts for the old, cuts for people with rare diseases, cuts in mental health and cuts for New Zealanders needing cochlear implants. This begs the question: how many more of these cuts will there be?

Just last weekend, we heard that a universally-supported pilot to improve the response of 111 mental health calls has been scrapped for the sake of just $8 million.

Action, not inquiry needed

Before the election, Labour campaigned heavily on mental health, but now in Government, it has put the mental health needs of New Zealanders on the backburner while they hold an unnecessary inquiry into the sector, despite the country’s independent Mental Health

Commissioner Kevin Allan telling the Health Select Committee last year that there was a need for action, not an inquiry.

This decision, on top of the events of recent weeks, has made clear just how vague the coalition Government’s plan is around the health sector and how quick they have been to backtrack on election promises.

After campaigning on pumping record amounts into health, they came up badly short when the books were opened for Budget 2018.

Promise broken

It beggars belief that Labour spent less in this year’s Budget than National spent in last year’s Budget. They pledged $774 million after our National-led Government added $888 million in new funding in 2017, and the $10 cheaper GP fees visits for all New Zealanders was missing.

But there was more bad news to come when Dr Clark dropped the National Health Targets late last month. These targets were tangible measures for not just DHBs but also New Zealanders who were interested to see how their DHB was tracking, and research has proved that hundreds of lives have been saved by having these targets in place.

This decision, which hadn’t even been approved by the Government Ministers, will cost lives if the focus and public scrutiny on better, faster healthcare in specific areas is lessened.

Nurses Strike bad news

As bad as these outcomes are for Kiwis, the nurses’ strike last week – the first in thirty years – had significant implications for patients of our national health system.

Elective surgeries that were cancelled include cardiac surgery, surgeries for cancer and joint replacements. These patients may have been waiting some time for their procedures and they could now be pushed back with a knock on effect on all elective surgeries or those who missed out may even be bumped to the bottom of the list.

We simply don’t know, because the Minister hasn’t spoken up. Now there is concern that further disruptive strikes are looming after the nurses’ organisation has said that further action will happen if additional funding isn’t made available following the strike – which the Government hasn’t done.

Another cruel decision

But for a Government that claims to care, the decision to cut extra funding for cochlear implants is one of the cruellest.

a callous and disgraceful decision which is going to see people lose their hearing when they don’t need to. National last year boosted the number of funded cochlear implants for adults, having previously sped up access to implants for children.

They have also broken their election promise to establish a fund to pay for drugs for treatments for people with rare diseases.

When you add in the Minister’s handling of management and board issues at the Counties Manukau District Health Board, it is clear that he is making a mess in health and New Zealanders are paying the price.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi is Member of Parliament on National Party List and the Party’s Spokesperson for Internal Affairs and Associate Spokesperson for Justice. (Picture Supplied)

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