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'Govt health spending fails to keep up with increased costs' - Doctor's union claims

The Senior Doctor’s Union claims the Government is spending less of its total budget on health year-on-year.

Successive governments have always increased health spending from the previous year. - Ian Powell, ASMS

Treasury figures released by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) to ONE News show that total health spending as a proportion of gross domestic product or GDP, has gone down and isn’t keeping up with costs or population growth.   

They show that in 2009/10 financial year the Government was spending 6.46 per cent of GDP on health, which dropped to 6.37 per cent in 2012/13, six per cent this year and will drop to 5.91 per cent next year.

A doctor consults a patient. Source: 1 NEWS

Ian Powell from the ASMS says the figures, plucked from Treasury’s own website, show while health spending in dollar terms has risen during that time (and is currently at over $14 billion for the current financial year) the Government is progressively backing away from health funding as a proportion of its overall budget.

“Successive governments have always increased health spending from the previous year. The real issue is that health spending is not keeping up with increased costs," says Mr Powell. 

I don’t agree with their interpretation of the figures. The fact is health as a share of GDP has always been around six percent. - Health Minister Jonathan Coleman

He says health spending is also not keeping up with the rise in population.

Dr Phil Bagshaw from Christchurch’s Charity Hospital says, “if you look at standardised dollars from 2009 you’ll find that in fact we’ve now lost point eight of a billion out of the true amount of money the Government’s putting into health”.

But, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says GDP is only one measure of success.

“I don’t agree with their interpretation of the figures. The fact is health as a share of GDP has always been around six percent. The important thing to focus on is that we’re delivering more operations, better results."

The minister points to his announcement this week that 42 per cent more elective surgery is being performed now than seven years ago, 50,000 operations in total.  

However, Dr Bagshaw says government good news announcements like this are just more “smoke and mirrors” and that despite more operations there is a burgeoning backlog of unmet need in our health system.

He claims 280,000 patients per year are being told they need surgery yet 170,000 are being turned away, and that only the lucky few from Canterbury end up having surgery at his Charity Hospital.

Dr Bagshaw believes it’s part of a government plan to have more New Zealanders go private and get care under the private health system.

However, he says “the problem is, people cant afford that”.  

Dr Coleman maintains the only way to fix unmet need is to do more and he says, “the current Government is definitely doing that”.

The union has released treasury figures to ONE News which show total Government health spending as a proportion of GDP is falling. Source: 1 NEWS