Health – Breaking Down the Budget

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
Breaking Down the Budget

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti says that health will receive a $16.68 billion funding boost across three Budgets in an effort to invest in frontline services. However, many health professionals question the right-wing coalition government for not prioritising the health sector enough in Budget 2024.   

A specific allocation of $31.2 million will gradually extend free breast screening to 70 to 74-year-olds. The allocation also includes increased funding for services such as emergency departments, primary care, medicines, and public health.

However, the health sector has widely criticised Budget 2024. National committed to funding 13 additional psychiatry registrar places before coming into power. Psychiatrists are now disappointed in the Government for not honouring this promise to allocate Budget funding for more mental health specialist training.

The same goes for 13 cancer drugs, promised but not followed through on. Prescriptions will resume costing $5 in July, yet this money won’t be going towards cancer drug funding as forecast by the government earlier.

The Sector Speaks

The health sector is generally critical and unimpressed with Budget 2024.

Budget 2024 reduced Health New Zealand, Te Whatu Ora funding by a total of $330 million over four years for Data and Digital Foundations and Innovation and Data and Digital Infrastructure and Capability—Enabling Health System Transformation. Chief executive of the Digital Health Association Ryl Jensen says the apparent funding drop for digital health services is concerning, but “we need to better understand the context to that decision, and what that will mean in practical terms”.

Catherine Hall, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s NZ, said that Budget 2024 contained nothing significant to support the health needs of older New Zealanders. These are the largest users of the under-pressured health system and regularly fall through the cracks of a fragmented service that makes accessing consistently good care very difficult.

She acknowledges that the coalition agreement has identified older people as needing additional political focus, and she notes the Health Select Committee’s review of aged care. “But actions, which so far we’ve not seen much of, speak louder than words.”

The New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW NZ) believes women will be adversely affected by the Budget, with President Janet Gibb “especially shocked with the cuts to initiatives to address family violence at a time when New Zealand is ranked as the worst developed country in the OECD for family violence.”

Disability Support

Disability Issues Minister Hon. Louise Upston says critical support services that improve the lives of disabled people will receive significant investment. “This includes an $80 million pre-Budget commitment to see the Ministry through to the end of the 2023/24 financial year, and $322 million for 2024/25.”

However, NZ Disability Support Network CEO Peter Reynolds said the $1.1 billion allocated to the Ministry for Disabled People—Whaikaha in Budget 2024 allows the sector to stand still but not move forward.

“We’re grateful for the funding confirmed in today’s budget – but this is the bare minimum required and won’t extend support to more people in need or increase the quality of care.”

“Providers face cost pressure across the board, with the prospect of covering unfunded Pay Equity wage increases hanging over them. Disabled New Zealanders deserve world-class support, so all eyes are now on Minister Luxton’s independent review to address the root cause.”

Cancer Medicines

Cancer Society National Executive Dr Rachael Hart says, “Our hearts go out to those living with cancer and their whānau who had their hopes raised by National’s election promise last August to fund 13 cancer drugs, only to see them crushed today.”

“While we appreciate the government has made a verbal commitment to improving Pharmac, it’s important to recognise that without additional funding, these efforts can only go so far. Enhancing Pharmac without additional funding is a dead-end. We need both commitment and resources to make meaningful progress.”

“Health Minister Dr Reti has ‘not ruled out funding the drugs in future budgets. But this may be too late. The government had previously stated that funding these medicines was a priority, but this priority has now been deferred by a year. People who need the drugs now may not have that year to wait.”

The budget has dedicated $1.77 billion to Pharmac to ensure continued access to medicines New Zealanders rely on. However, it’s been overshadowed by a broken promise for cancer funding.

Writing for The Herald, former National MP Steven Joyce called the broken promise to fund 13 cancer drugs an “inexplicable failure”.

The Cancer Society is also pleased to see the investment in breast cancer screening, although Dr Hart says the roll-out “is slower than we had understood it would be.”

Overall, National will be forced to face countless patients in need of medicines who can no longer trust the party will follow through on their promises.

Finding Perspective

The chair of the country’s leading primary and community health sector group, Primary and Community Health Aotearoa (previously the Federation) Chair, Steve Chadwick, says, “It’s pleasing that there has been some investment in primary and community health.”

“However, from an equity perspective, it is disappointing to have the free prescription removed. We believe this is detrimental to the health status of the very population we are trying to serve.”

Outgoing Executive Director Angela Francis says, “While it is encouraging to hear there will be new money for training more doctors, pressures remain for other health practitioners within the primary and community sector.

“The increase in access and funding of $31.2 million for breast screening is welcomed, and we appreciate Minister Reti’s increase of funding for primary and community health care by $2.12 billion. This should ultimately lessen the load on secondary health care.”