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Govt responds to increasing health needs with spin

Government responds to increasing health needs with spin

“The Government’s media spin on the Health budget is hiding some inconvenient truths about what’s happening with our public health services,” says Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg.

A post-Budget analysis of government health expenditure prepared by the CTU and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), released today, shows a continuing trend of funding cuts in real terms since 2009/10, when the first such analysis was done. Key points are attached to this release.

“We estimate that the 2017 Health budget was $215 million short of what was required to pay for the increased costs of providing existing services, the growing and aging population since last year’s Budget, plus the initiatives announced for the next year,” says Bill Rosenberg.

“But that is just the shortfall compared to last year. Funding shortfalls such as this each year since we started doing these analyses mean that the 2017 Health budget shortfall is $1.4 billion compared to 2010.

“The effects on people’s health and access to health care are largely hidden but, on the limited information available, New Zealand ranks poorly against other comparable countries on access measures such as barriers to primary care, and waiting times for elective surgery, for first specialist appointments, and for treatment after diagnosis.”

“Nowhere is unmet health need more apparent than for those requiring mental health care, as has been well documented in various reports. It is especially shameful that the Government’s response to New Zealand’s mental health crisis has been to cynically manufacture a ’$224 million boost’ when most of the money is not going into mental health services funded from the Health budget which are so desperately needing more resources. Nor do many people realise that it is to be spread over four years.”

He says the post-Budget analysis shows mental health services will receive just 1.2 percent more: an estimated $18 million additional funding from the Health budget in 2017/18. This is a cut in real terms because an estimated 7.3% increase was needed just to maintain an already under-resourced mental health service.

ASMS Director of Policy and Research Lyndon Keene says: “The Health Minister’s acknowledgement that 60 percent of the people who die by suicide in New Zealand each year have not interacted with a mental health or addiction service in the previous 12 months speaks volumes about the state of our mental health services.[1]

“The Government’s spin-doctor response suggests either the Minister’s Cabinet colleagues are in denial, or that he and his colleagues simply don’t care enough.”

Government media releases on other health budget items, such as Pharmac, Disability Support Services and health targets also give a misleading impression of ‘progress’ being made while resources are trending backwards.

[1] See https://www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/social-investment-approach-mental-health

The full analysis of the Vote Health budget is available at: http://www.union.org.nz/did-the-budget-provide-enough-for-health-2017/

A detailed spreadsheet showing the calculations is available at: http://www.union.org.nz/health-vote-2017-18-post-budget/

An analysis of the announced $224 million ‘boost’ for mental health is available at: https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Budget-2017-mental-health-funding-boost-a-cut-in-real-terms_168083.3.pdf.

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