Every New Zealander deserves access to quality affordable healthcare, but access is not as affordable as it once was. Last year more than 500,000 people reported cost as a major factor preventing them visiting their GP when they were ill.
I recently succeeded Labour’s Annette King as the opposition’s Shadow Health Minister. This is a significant step up in terms of responsibility, and Annette leaves huge shoes to fill. Alongside Housing and Education, the portfolio is one of ‘the big three’ for the coming election.
The health sector is struggling to keep up with demand. In a way this is not surprising given an independent assessment found that $1.7 billion worth of funding has been cut out of the health system over the past six years, taking into account demographic, wage and inflationary pressures.
The money we spend on health is not trivial. The Opposition Health Spokesperson leads parliamentary scrutiny for a sector budget of over $16 billion, and for setting direction in an area that most people connect with regularly throughout their lives. Cutting 10 percent of that budget has real and painful consequences.
Regardless of the size of the budget, there are of course real savings that can be made over time if we insert health into all areas of our thinking—especially housing and education. Prevention is better than curing.
But this Government seems disinterested in prevention and is moving in the opposite direction. The number of people with HIV in New Zealand has reached the highest level ever this year, yet an application for funding for an HIV prevention study has been declined in just the past week.
The task ahead is huge. I am grateful to have had Annette King (a former health minister herself) as my mentor over the past two years that I have been associate health spokesperson, and fortunately the sector is full of generous and capable people. Otago tertiary institutions carry huge expertise in health. I will be leaning on the many publicly minded academics, clinicians, students and allied health professionals as I prioritise Labour’s plan to invest in the sector.
Labour commits to meeting inflationary, wage and demographic pressures when in Government and to gradually backfill the $1.7 billion the current Government has taken out of the sector over the past six years. This will be a ‘shot in the arm’ for a sector critical to our nation’s well-being.