Budget 2022 health: New entities funded, Pharmac boosted, dental grants increased

The new Health NZ and Māori Health Authority bodies are being set up with a colossal $11 billion over four years, while the Government's also bolstering Pharmac's Budget, pumping more money into GPs, and increasing dental grants for low-income whanau.

That giant $11 billion figure reflects forecast spending over four years to ensure health services previously funded through the outgoing District Health Boards (DHBs) are maintained and to deal with DHB deficits.

It begins with a record $1.8 billion funding boost in the first year which Health Minister Andrew Little says will assist the new health entities have a "clean start" when they begin operating from July 1. 

That means addressing DHBs' current deficits, estimated to be $550 million at the end of this financial year. It wil also the health organisations respond to demographic changes as a result of New Zealand's ageing population, and to make general improvements to services. 

The minister said this investment sets up the two bodies to succeed. 

"For the first time there will be funding certainty for two years with a $1.8 billion ongoing operational funding increase in year one, and another $1.3 billion ongoing operational funding increase locked-in for next year already. Budget 2022 transforms the way we fund our public health service in New Zealand. 

"Having the certainty of two years of budgets, as part of a total $11.1 billion across the forecast period, will allow Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority to get on with the job of delivering the sort of health system that provides the care New Zealanders need and deserve."

To help more Kiwis before they require hospital treatment - and take pressure off hospitals - the Budget is investing $102 million in community healthcare. 

"This investment will grow primary healthcare teams around the country and allow GPs to work more seamlessly with services like physiotherapists, pharmacists and social workers to offer greater care, earlier, and closer to home."

Those GPs in "high-need areas" are getting $86 million of new funding over four years so they can offer more appointments and improve their opening hours. 

There's also $76 million over four years to address the national workforce. This includes covering about 1500 more training places for primary care work, including nursing, physiotherapy, pharmacists and optical services.

“Combined, this is a significant investment in growing and retaining the medical workforce to help make these health reforms a success," Little said. 

About $1.3 billion in capital funding over the next two years will go towards new and existing projects to improve hospital infrastructure. That includes investing in rebuilds of hospitals in Whangarei, Nelson and Hillmorton. 

Māori Health

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare has announced $168 million over four years for the Māori Health Authority to directly commission services.

"What Māori have always wanted is a health system that takes care of them and that meets their needs in a way that makes them feel comfortable, but that is not what our health system has delivered to date. 

“Māori deserve to live longer and healthier lives, and that is why this Government is reforming our healthcare system, and why we established a new Māori Health Authority as part of the reform."

There's a further $20.1 million over four years to support the development of iwi-Māori partnership boards to "ensure the voice of iwi and whanau is strongly represented across our new healthcare system". 

"We are also investing $39 million to provide the Māori health workforce with additional access to training and development to support them within the new health system, so they can continue to deliver much needed services to whānau Māori across Aotearoa."

The Budget also earmarks $107 million for the Ministry for Disabed People - which starts operating in July - and $11 million so more disabled people can access services.

Health services

Moving past funding for the new health entities, the workforce and infrastructure, the Government's announced what it says is the biggest-ever increase to Pharmac's medicines budget.

The extra $191 million over the next two years will allow the drug-buying agency to "secure as many medicines on its list as it can, with a focus on better cancer treatments", Little said.

Low-income families will benefit from dental grants being increased from $300 to $1000, part of Labour's 2020 election commitments.

"Many low-income New Zealanders find it difficult to afford immediate and essential dental care, and increasing the level of the grant will ensure more people can receive the urgent help they need," said Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni.

"Low-income people who are eligible will see the amount available more than trebled, and the dental work no longer needs to be for emergencies only."

But some emergency services are also getting some attention, with 166.1 million over four years to support road ambulance services and $90.7 million over four years towards air ambulance services.

"Budget 2022 is planned to add 48 ambulances and 13 other vehicles to New Zealand’s road ambulance fleet and allow up to 248 more paramedics and frontline staff to be recruited to support road ambulance services. This includes 22 staff for the communications centre which responds to 111 calls."

The air ambulance funding will allow for the replacement of ageing aircraft, with at least one new helicopter with additional crew.