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Time for an honest look at funding of public health system

Time for an honest look at funding of New Zealand’s public health system

An article in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, out today (Friday), dismantles claims that the cost of public health care in this country is excessive and unsustainable.

The article, Funding New Zealand’s public health care system: time for an honest appraisal and public debate, examines data from the Treasury and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and concludes that claims about New Zealand’s health care spending are based on a misrepresentation.

It was written jointly by Lyndon Keene and Ian Powell from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), Christchurch surgeon Phil Bagshaw (who chairs the Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust), Emeritus Professor M. Gary Nicholls (Department of Medicine, University of Otago), Council of Trade Unions economist and Director of Policy Dr Bill Rosenberg, and Professor Christopher Frampton (Biostatistician, University of Otago - Christchurch).

The article illustrates how New Zealand’s health care spending is low compared with most other OECD countries and how it is falling as a proportion of GDP. In particular, it argues the Government can afford to spend more on health care and that there is a compelling case for doing so; for example, to respond to population growth and aging.

“Health professionals of all types are dealing with a tsunami of unmet health need in this country, people who have a clearly defined clinical need for treatment but cannot get it because the health system isn’t resourced properly,” says Ian Powell, ASMS Executive Director.

“If these needs are not met by public health services, the costs do not magically disappear. Those patients and untreated health issues will resurface elsewhere and the costs will still have to be borne by the economy. So all the Government is doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul rather than actually addressing the issues.”

The Medical Journal article appears a day after the Government announced its Budget for the coming year. A preliminary analysis shows an overall operational funding shortfall of $304 million, including a funding shortfall for district health boards of approximately $131 million.

One of the other authors of the Medical Journal article, Christchurch surgeon and Chair of the Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust, Phil Bagshaw, is currently researching the level of unmet adult health need in New Zealand.

“The amount of unmet need for hospital care has increased to an unacceptable level,” he says. “The Government must address this problem urgently. We are at risk of sliding into an American-style health system where a large section of our community is left without an acceptable level of care.”

Mr Powell says the Medical Journal article brings together various perspectives on the funding of health care in New Zealand, and highlights the need for honest scrutiny of the facts and figures.


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