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Budget Leaves Health System Struggling To Keep Up

The budget will keep the public health sectors lights on, barely, and does not address increasing unmet need, longer waiting lists and over-stretched staff.

While $1.43 billion has been allocated for health sector cost pressures in 2024/2025, Te Whatu Ora officials indicated at annual review hearings in March that $1.43 billion is no longer enough to meet cost pressures.

"This will be barely enough to keep the lights on," ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton says.

"Health has been underfunded for so long that it needs courageous leadership to give it the funds to deliver an equitable health system for all.

"This budget falls short."

Adding to further disappointment are the reductions to promised additional medical student numbers to increase the stretched health workforce.

"National campaigned on increasing medical student numbers by another 50 places in 2025 however only 25 places are indicated in this budget," Dalton says.

"With 22 per cent vacancy rates amongst senior medical officers in the public health system, we need a greater commitment to train and retain our current workforce. Any reduction from the promise of 50 is a big problem.

"This budget leaves our health system treading water, our workforce over-stretched and patients left waiting longer and longer."

Dalton says the addition of emergency department security is a step towards keeping staff safer but the underlying cause of many violent episodes in EDs stems from the long wait times due to staff shortages and hospital bed block.

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"EDs are stressful places," Dalton says. "People are often scared, hurt or in pain and can lash out when wait times boil over. Having safe staffing numbers, allowing patients to flow through the system rather than get blocked up at the door, would go a long way to reducing violence in ED waiting rooms.

"New Zealand deserves a commitment from Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, and his coalition partners Winston Peters and David Seymour, that they will grow our public health workforce and provide the investment to train, recruit and retain the staff needed."

Information about the state of the healthcare crisis in New Zealand can be found in ASMS’ latest report, " Anatomy of a Health Crisis".

At a glance:

  • More than one third of all adults have unmet need for health care
  • 329,000 adults and 55,000 children have unmet need for mental health
  • Emergency department presentations increased 22.5 per cent since 2013/2014
  • Wait times for life threatening events grew 51.3 per cent
  • Clinical directors report a 22 per cent shortage of senior medical officers in their departments
  • As of September 2023, nearly 60,000 patients wait more than four months to see a specialist.

"The clearest action to address all these issues is targeted funding," Dalton says.

"A health care system that really caters for everyone will cost money. We need an urgent enquiry into how we fund our healthcare system and how to meet future health needs."

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