Hospitals asked to cut millions from budgets

Hospitals asked to cut millions from budgets

Doctors' unions say a plan for District Health Boards to save hundreds of millions of dollars in staff costs will put patients at risk.

But the Health Minister says more is being spent on health than ever before.

DHBs around the country are on a savings blitz, trying to cut millions from their budgets.

But that's left medical staff overworked, according to the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), which says patients are being put at risk.

"Nurses are already having to show up to work because they're so short staffed," says ASMS executive director Ian Powell. "They'll be tending to patients and then have to be tended to themselves because they're so sick."

Figures released by the Labour Party show DHBs plan to save more than $163 million over the coming financial year.

The Waikato DHB is expected to save the most -- more than $43 million.

The second biggest saver is Auckland DHB, at $27 million.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says it's a drive for efficiencies, not a funding cut.

"It's very important that money is prioritised to where it will have the greatest effect, so it's entirely reasonable each year to ask them to look at how they're spending their money," says Dr Coleman.

Savings are likely to come from holding off filling staffing vacancies, cuts to temporary staff numbers, as well as limiting holidays.

But Dr Coleman says the Government isn't putting a freeze on replacing staff.

"DHBs are choosing not to refill vacancies, but if you look at the numbers of doctors and nurses overall, there's an extra 5500 doctors and nurses working in the system than there were seven years ago."

The ASMS says the savings plan is short-sighted, but Dr Coleman is adamant the Government is spending more, not less, on health, saying he added $400 million to the total health budget last year.