NZ Election 2020: National promises to cut elective surgery wait time, boost Pharmac funding by $90 million

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.
National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti. Photo credit: Getty

National is promising to ensure elective surgeries are done within four months and to boost Pharmac funding by about $90 million as part of its health policy costed at $800 million over four years. 

An elective surgery is one which is planned in advance rather than done in an emergency situation, like hip replacements and cataract surgeries. 

The guidelines for maximum waiting times is meant to be four months, and National wants to ensure the target is met, because some Kiwis have been left on the list for much longer than that, and COVID-19 has made it worse. 

The average waiting time for patients receiving elective surgery during June this year was 95.3 days compared to 62.3 in December, Ministry of Health data obtained by Newshub shows. 

Average waiting times in June were particularly long as many non-urgent patients had treatment in June that had been delayed during March, April and May when New Zealand was in COVID-19 alert levels 3 and 4.

Approximately 10,200 patients had been identified as having their treatment deferred during March and April 2020 as a result of COVID-19.  Patients that needed acute or urgent care continued to be treated during June.

"Access to quality healthcare has slid backwards under Labour. Waiting times are increasing and the number of elective surgeries has decreased," National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said on Wednesday. 

If the district health board (DHB) is unable to provide the treatment within four months, National says DHBs will be required to source another provider to meet that need. This could be either another DHB or a private provider.

National has already committed to the idea of cracking down on the so-called "postcode lottery" for elective surgeries by giving DHBs a common points system. 

That way whether you live in Kaitaia, Bluff or any place in-between, your postcode will not determine whether you are treated. Studies have found "extreme inequalities" for accessing weight loss surgery across New Zealand. 

National is also committing to re-establish the National Health Targets that were scrapped by the Government in 2018 which measure DHB performance. 

The Government said the targets weren't fit for purpose and directed the Ministry of Health to develop a new set of performance measures to improve health outcomes for New Zealanders. 

Former Health Minister David Clark pushed back against the Opposition's criticism of scrapping the targets. He said officials were still collecting the same information without them. 

National wants to increase funding for the Government's drug-buying agency Pharmac by about $90 million a year. 

It would be made up of a $50 million per year cancer drug fund, $20 million over four years for rare disorders, and increasing Pharmac's budget in line with the wider health budget increases which is expected to add around $35 million a year. 

The Government announced in May an increase of $160 million over four years for Pharmac in Budget 2020, made up of an extra $10 million in 2020/2021 and $150 million over the subsequent three years.

National's former health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said it wasn't enough and accused the Government of "skimping on funding".  

Pharmac's budget increased to a record level of $985 million at the time

Pharmac got another boost in July of $150 million, part of $320 million announced by Health Minister Chris Hipkins for the ongoing COVID-19 response.  

National also wants to increase frontline primary healthcare services by adding a primary care navigator to every general practice, at a cost of $64 million annually. 

Dr Reti said the UK has piloted the use of primary care navigators with positive outcomes and National would make sure every general practice in New Zealand has a Government-funded primary care navigator.

National's other health commitments:

  • Increase funding for the number of cochlear implants from 40 to 100. 
  • Improve cancer management with a new cancer agency, accelerated bowel screening, local radiotherapy units and faster cancer treatment targets.
  • Require DHBs to annually construct and report against a Māori health strategy to help address inequities.