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When you need it: Alliance health policy

No charge to see the GP or pick up a medical prescription and the right to urgent health treatment within set time limits are at the heart of the Alliance health policy announced today.

Alli ance spokesperson on health Phillida Bunkle and leader of the Alliance Jim Anderton launched the health policy today at parliament.

The Alliance ranks health care alongside jobs and education as the most important areas needing attention in a new government. 'Health care should be available to all New Zealanders, regardless of their ability to pay,' said Phillida Bunkle.

'The Alliance will ensure all New Zealanders get the health care they need, without charge: GP visits, prescriptions, prompt treatment in public hospitals, specialist care, mental health care, maternity care, long term stay in geriatric hospitals and Plunket.

'What is clear to most people is that after more than ten years of 're-structuring', the health of New Zealanders has not improved. There is an alarming increase in acute hospital admissions and the return of diseases like rickets, TB, diphtheria, rheumatic fever and meningitis.

'Under National, this is as good as it gets. National and Act's health policy is clear: if you can't afford to go the doctor, you can't go.'

The Alliance will spend $380 million on abolishing charges for GP visits. Removing charges for medical prescriptions will cost $190 million a year.

'Only when people can afford to go to the doctor and pick up their medicine can we get on top of acute demand for hospital treatment and begin to bring down hospital waiting lists,' Phillida Bunkle said.

The Alliance will spend $150 million over three years to reduce surgical waiting lists.

'190,000 people are waiting for treatment or assessment in public hospitals, and yet hospital wards continue to close. The choice for New Zealanders is whether children should have untreated glue ear, and adults needing heart operations should go without, or whether the top 5% or earners should pay a tax rate that ensures all New Zealanders get the services they need.

'It is very inefficient to spend money figuring out who gets what care. Universal access to health care is more efficient than targeting care and commercial systems of contestable providers.

'We can pay for better hospital services by cutting out the layers of bureaucracy, re-directing public money currently going to private hospitals instead of public hospitals for surgical treatment, abolishing the Health Funding Authority bureacuracy and restructuring debt.

'The unelected Health Funding Authority cost the taxpayers $115 million last year. $200 million of public money was spent on private hospitals, and the taxpayer paid $15 more than it needed because hospitals pay commercial rates on the debt instead of the same interest rate that the government pays.'

The Government is planning to slash $70 million from the public hospital elective surgery budget after the election. The Pre-Election Fiscal Update shows an increase of $94 million in spending on 'extra electives' in 1998/99, and then in 2000/01 it shows a decrease of $70 million. Capital expenditure on public hospitals will be $110 million lower next year. The government is planning to fund new hospitals in Wellington and Auckland with private revenue.

'Democratic choice will be introduced to the public hospital system through the creation of elected Area Health Boards to replace the appointed hospital boards of directors.

The Alliance wants to see the Health and Disability Services Commissioner better resourced to carry out prompt investigations and reporting of complaints with compensation.

The Code of Health and Disability Rights will be extended to cover all New Zealanders right not only to good quality treatment, but prompt and timely treatment.

The time for assessment and diagnosis for cases considered urgent by the referring GP will be six weeks. There will be no hidden waiting lists. The maximum time for urgent treatment will be six weeks. The maximum time for elective surgery will be six months.$100 million will be put aside for health initiatives including preventative measures including measures enabling Maori to meet Maori health needs, expanding immunisation programmes, fully funding Plunket and further support for Pacific Island health programmes.

'Most New Zealanders know that the health changes of the last decade have failed. We want to give New Zealanders a public health system they can not only believe in again, but rely on,' said Phillida Bunkle.

The package will be funded by revenue raised from an executive surcharge on 5% of income earners and a moderate 5% tariff on imports from countries other than Australia. No one who earns less than $60,000 a year will pay more income tax and everyone will benefit from reduced waiting lists and the removal of charges for doctors' visits and medical prescriptions.


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