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National's threat to public health services

1 September 2005

National's threat to public health services

Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that the spending cuts planned by National to finance tax cuts would do serious damage to the public health system, if it ever got into power.

"Labour is currently committed to new budget spending for health of over $4 billion over the next four years - or more than one billion dollars each year.

"On top of that, Labour has already budgeted to provide an additional $489 million in 2006 to meet existing commitments and New Zealand's changing demography, as detailed in Treasury's Pre-election Fiscal Update. Updated demographic statistics suggest that this figure would need to be increased by at least another $100 million just to meet existing programmes.

"National is refusing to commit to Labour's future funding path beyond this year's budget. They won't even commit to provide sufficient future funding to keep pace with inflation, technological advances, and changes in the age and mix of our population.

"In future years, those factors require government to commit at least another $500 million a year to retain existing service levels, and probably more. Without that spending, the health system would experience savage cuts.

"National's wild claims about cutting waste in the health system just won't do. They haven't come up with any significant areas of waste. It is services which would be cut.

"National's policies would mean:

- Severe restraints on pay for nurses, doctors, and other health sector staff.
- Universal access to cheaper doctors' visits and prescriptions could not happen.
- Increases in the number of cataract and hip and knee operations would be canned.
- User charges in public hospitals would be likely to be back on the agenda.
- The abolition of asset testing for older people in long-term care would probably be sacrificed.
- Mental health services would be cut.
- Rural health services would be cut.

"National has a hidden agenda on health. I cannot recall a prior occasion in which a major opposition party was yet to release its health policy just over two weeks out from an election.

"When Labour was last in opposition, we released a comprehensive 37 page health policy well before the 1999 election. It was properly costed. It was public information available to every New Zealander. We had nothing to hide.

"National has released virtually nothing. It is hiding its policies. It has a secret agenda of funding cuts and service cuts which would destroy public health provision as we know it.

"We now know that National has a hidden plan, developed in secret with big business, to turn ACC over to private insurers. No doubt the same insurers are eagerly anticipating a much bigger role in the health system.

"Our public health system barely survived National's disastrous reforms of the 1990s. It would not survive another term of Business Roundtable ideology," Helen Clark said.

ENDS

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