Labour MP Tamati Coffey says National 'can't deny' health sector neglect

Labour and National MPs clashed on Friday morning's The AM Show over funding for nurses, following the 24-hour strike that disrupted services across the country on Thursday. 

National Party MP for Rotorua Todd McClay said it's "not good enough" that the Labour-led Government hasn't increased its pay offer to nurses after the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) rejected the latest offer. 

The current Government has been criticised for not offering more money to nurses when it's sitting on a billion dollar surplus, figures from the nine months to March show.

But Labour MP for Waiariki Tamati Coffey said the Government is catching up after nine years of healthcare sector neglect under the former National Government. He said he sympathises with nurses however, and hopes the negotiations can reach a positive outcome. 

Mr McClay rejects that National neglected the healthcare sector. He believes Labour gave nurses too many expectations when the party was in opposition, and now that Labour is in power, they're unable to deliver. He said Labour is spending on things "they believe are more important".

"The one that will grate a lot of New Zealanders is the decision to put $2.8 billion into students for their first year of study free... It's not that the Government hasn't got enough money, it's what they're choosing to spend that money on," said Mr McClay. 

Mr Coffey said he's "unapologetic" about prioritising students. He said behind nurses, the Government also needs to think about teachers and other government departments that are looking for more funding. He said National can't deny the health sector was underfunded, which he says has led to strikes and dissatisfaction. 

Mr McClay says National was under financial pressure during its time in power, when it faced the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquake in 2011.