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Budget 2024 Produces Funding Reprioritisation For Digital Health

The decision in Budget 2024 to reduce funding to digital health services is, on the face of it, concerning, says the chief executive of the Digital Health Association, “but we need to know more.”

Budget 2024 reduced Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora funding by a total of $330 million over four years for Data and Digital Foundations and Innovation and Data and Digital Infrastructure and Capability—Enabling Health System Transformation. This comes against an overall backdrop of a $16.7 billion increase in new health sector funding over three years to go into Pharmac, public health, and frontline services such as hospitals and primary care.

Ryl Jensen says the apparent funding drop for digital health services is concerning, but “we need to better understand the context to that decision, and what that will mean in practical terms”.

“The government has had to make some tough choices. We all know the state of the economy and the Government’s need to find savings in order to invest in frontline staff, infrastructure, and services.

“And in this case, it looks like some of the reprioritised funding may have come from existing programmes that had underspent their contingency from previous budget allocations.”

As well as this, the Budget Summary of Initiatives states that funding will be returned “pending work to prepare investment-ready business cases for future investment”.

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Ms Jensen says that is positive and an opportunity for the sector.

She says it’s clear the digital health sector and ecosystem must work collaboratively to focus on demonstrating the significant value and benefits associated with strong digital capability uplift and digital modernisation of the health sector.

“We must work with government to table even stronger business cases to achieve further funding and investment for foundational change in digital health.

“If we take the pedal off the gas now, both the clinical frontline and health consumers will suffer.”

Until the last three budget cycles, Ms Jensen says there is a view that there has been ongoing underinvestment in health technology for many decades, “and unless we ensure new investment is prioritised, we will see further decline in our health technology services”.

“We need to help facilitate greater productivity and better clinical working conditions for our frontline staff, and digital is a key part of the equation to enable that.

“Digital technologies have transformed other sectors, such as banking, retail, and airlines, and we know that consumers today want to have access to their health records through digital means.”

The DHA is prepared to go into bat for continued investment in digital health and put compelling cases on the table.

Ms Jensen said her priority now is to liaise with Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora to discuss the implications.

“At this point, it would be foolish to speculate, let's understand the detail first, and then we can make informed decisions about any next steps.”

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