Our health system needs investment not cuts

I’ve been spending weekends taking my caravan around the suburbs asking people what matters to them. Week after week people say their biggest priority is fixing our health system.

Over the last two years we have been exceptionally well-served here on the North Shore as Covid-19 and the vaccination campaign heaped extra stresses on the dedicated doctors, nurses and specialists we rely on. Our high vaccination rates have saved lives and, critically, reduced the number of people needing hospitalisation.

At the same time we’ve seen the North Shore finally getting some much needed new investment into our hospital and local services. A new $200 million, 120-bed, elective surgery unit and four new operating theatres are under construction at North Shore Hospital and over $7 million is also being spent expanding intensive and high dependency capacity and isolation rooms. Extra support has also gone into community-based mental health services including Shore Junction’s youth wellbeing support programme. That’s a good start after a decade of under-investment, but I’m ambitious for more.

Health has been a major priority in each of Grant Robertson’s well-being budgets – and it will be again this year. Total health funding in 2021 was up 45 per cent, or $7.6 billion more, compared to when National was in government. This investment is vitally needed – parties arguing for tax cuts need to level with our community about what health projects they would axe to pay for them.

However a major catch-up on health spending alone will not give us the health system we need. Put simply, we inherited a system rife with glaring health inequalities. Mental health services were completely inadequate to meet growing demands for them – demand which has only increased with Covid-19. And our own local hospital was no longer able to meet the needs of our growing community. We also need to end the postcode lottery which sees Aucklanders in other neighbourhoods able to access the care they need much more quickly.

On 1 July Health NZ will replace the 20 district health boards, with a Māori Health Authority working alongside  – both organisations have been tasked with ensuring consistent, high-quality care for everyone wherever we live. Some have criticised this reorganisation but the comprehensive review of the nation’s health system was clear that the status quo was no longer an option if we actually want to improve health outcomes for everyone and ensure the additional funding we’ve delivered actually reaches the front line.

And of course our amazing health workforce deserves better pay and conditions too. We’ve needed them like never before these past two years and we must do all we can to retain and attract the best people into the professions, starting with landing the pay equity negotiations for our nurses which I’m hopeful will be resolved as quickly as possible. We should all be proud that AUT on Akoranga Drive, the largest healthcare faculty in the country, will play a major role in training the larger health workforce that will be needed to deliver the improved health system we are targeting.