As National and Labour play the blame game over the state of the public health system, the Finance Minister says Vote Health will be a ‘major focus’ area in May’s Budget

The state of New Zealand’s health system has been thrust into the limelight and is likely to take centre stage at next month’s budget.

Concerns sparked by RNZ reports on problems at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital including buildings full of rot and potentially dangerous mould, asbestos and raw sewage leaking into the walls, have evolved into a wider debate over the funding of the health sector.

“New Zealand’s health system has been so badly neglected by the previous government it needs about $14 billion invested in infrastructure in the next 10 years,” Minister of Health David Clark told RNZ last week.

He says the $8 billion Labour pledged in the election campaign for extra health funding over the next four years won’t be enough.

Clark says, although the numbers are “a bit ropey,” it’s likely extra spending will be needed to repair the “nearly decade of neglect.”

District Health Boards (DHB) across the country have been complaining about issues with their buildings, such as mould and rot.

Clark says as there is no national asset management plan for DHBs, it’s hard to gauge the full extent of the issue.

But he says the Government is in the process of putting one together.

Clark, who has been in the job for less than six months, put the blame of the health system’s shortfalls squarely in the lap of the previous National-led Government.

“The previous Government seemed to believe that by squeezing the health sector, you promote a private health industry,” he told RNZ.

“They were concerned about private profit for that industry, so it could grow.”

But new National Party leader Simon Bridges told media on Tuesday when National was in Government, it did invest in health.

“This is a situation where National, through tough times like the global financial crisis and the Christchurch Earthquakes, continued to put more investment into health.”

Now is the time, he says, for the Government to take action – it’s “show me the money time,” he says, channelling his inner Jerry Maguire.

“What they have got,” he says, in reference to New Zealand’s strong economy, “they have inherited from us, so they can get about doing some of the things that their rhetoric suggests.”

‘Vote Health will be a major focus area’ in the budget

So, what does the Government plan on doing?

“I cannot go into details until 17 May (Budget day) but it will come as no surprise that Vote Health will be a major focus area,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in Parliament on Tuesday.

He says the operating and capital allowances outlined in the Budget Policy Statement are both significantly higher than the previous Government had budgeted for.

“A significant amount of this will go towards Vote Health to help bring services back up to a standard that New Zealanders expect and deserve in the context of what has independently been said to be a $2.4 billion underfunding of health in the last nine years.”

He says the Government has been advised of “significant capital spending pressures” among DHBs, which have signalled a required capital spend of $14 billion over the next 10 years.

This will require about $10 billion of additional Crown/taxpayer funding, he says.

 “We’re going to make sure that New Zealanders and the health professionals who work in the health system know that it will be the best it can be: safe, affordable, and secure.”