Nurses say budget misses big picture of health

16 May 2014

Nurse leaders welcome extra funding in the Budget for free pre-teen health visits but say more should be invested in addressing the root cause of much illness –poverty.

Also frustration was expressed that the Minister stressed only funding free GP visits and failed to mention funding should also cover visits to nurses and nurse practitioners

Debbie Davies, a spokesperson for the NZNO College of Primary Health Care nurses said free care for under-13s was positive along with extra throat-swabbing clinics.

But she said the Budget failed to invest enough into addressing the root causes of a lot of illness in children and young people – poor housing, overcrowding, poor nutrition and poverty. “It lacks the social emphasis required to address the poverty and improve the life chances of our tamariki”. She added it also failed to address the increasing burden on the health sector of long-term conditions and an ageing population.

Daryle Deering, outgoing president of the College of Mental Health Nursing, was likewise pleased to see extra funding for child health and protection and the mental health funding for Youth One Stop Shops and sexual violence victims. But she said of concern was the lack of initiatives to “address the increasing levels of poverty and inequality in our country which contribute greatly to high levels of stress and mental health and substance use issues”.

Deering and Davies’ comments were also echoed by Professor Jenny Carryer, executive director of the College of Nursing Aotearoa who said the Budget failed to address the two primary needs highlighted in a recent Healthcare think tank meeting* looking at avoiding a future health funding blow-out.

She said the two needs were to reduce demand for health care (through preventative health and social measures as well as addressing issues around escalating heath care costs in the last year of life) and to reduce wastage in the health sector (like improving electronic connectivity between health providers and reducing duplication).

Carryer said while on one level you could not fail to be delighted at more money being given to child and other health initiatives but she also saw the Budget as a “cynical election year” Budget that took a short term approach rather than looking at long-term sustainability.

She was also frustrated that free visits to nurses and NPs for under-13s were not mentioned by the Minister at the same time. “Unless the minister’s office shows some leadership in recognising the whole of the (general practice) workforce then where do we start.”

Carryer also was disappointed at the targeting of specific funding for postgraduate medical education rather than increasing health workforce training funding to meet the national health workforce strategy and health consumer needs across all disciplines.

Deering was also concerned at the lack of specific allocations for postgraduate nursing training or nursing initiatives to assist with improving the mental health and wellbeing of families and communities.

*The invitation only Think Tank meeting on May 9 was facilitated by Southern Cross Health Care Group and Massey University to “propose and discuss pragmatic solutions to New Zealand’s growing and unsustainable level of healthcare spending”. Thirty two health sector leaders from politicians to health professional leaders were invited and many were part of a research survey which found that “modifying or reducing demand” for health care was seen as the single most important strategy to avoid a future funding blowout.