Budget 2020: $3.92 billion going to DHBs to 'help clear the COVID-19 backlog'

District Health Boards (DHBs) across New Zealand will get an extra $3.92 billion over the next four years from Budget 2020 to "help clear the COVID-19 backlog" of procedures put on hold during the crisis. 

A one-off investment of $282.5 million will fund planned care such as elective surgery, radiology scans, assessments and follow-ups, and procedures completed in outpatients clinics. That's on top of $125.4 million over four years to cover increased costs. 

It comes as the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the health industry has begun to emerge. Last week the Cancer Society revealed there have been 30 percent fewer cancers diagnosed over the lockdown period. 

The Cancer Society said Kiwis have not been to see their GPs, there have been fewer scans, colonoscopies, endoscopies, biopsies, and tests - and all of that means fewer cancers have been detected. 

Health Minister David Clark said one of the key lessons of COVID-19 is the need for a strong and sustainable public health and disability system.

"After what the country has gone through in recent months, and from the devastation we have seen to underprepared health systems around the world, it is absolutely critical that as a country we continue to invest in and build up the capacity of our health system."

Dr Clark said although critical and urgent care continued even under alert level 4, he said he knows that many New Zealanders had procedures delayed.

"Our hospitals are now returning to a more normal level of service, but it will take time to recover and deal with the backlog."

He said the Government doesn't want people to have to wait for care any longer than necessary.

"This extra investment in planned care will fund an estimated 153,000 surgeries and procedures, radiology scans, and specialist appointments over the next three years."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the response to COVID-19 has highlighted how important it is to have well-funded public services, and that it could take years to catch up and make sure everyone is receiving timely treatment.

"That's why we've made a conscious decision in Budget 2020 to make sure critical public services keep getting the funding they need to keep running and providing the same level of services to all New Zealanders."

The multibillion-dollar investment represents an increase of $980 million dollars per year and takes the annual budget for DHBs to $15.274 billion.

The health sector already got a $500 million boost in the Government's initial COVID-19 response package, and a further $55 million was invested in public health units last month to bolster contact tracing.