Unions lash out at Christopher Luxon after he backtracks on health funding promise

National leader Christopher Luxon is being heavily criticised by the unions representing healthcare workers after he reneged on his promise to match health funding with inflation. 

Luxon previously committed to at a minimum increasing health funding to keep pace with inflation if he becomes Prime Minister.

When asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge last month whether he would commit to keeping health spending in pace with inflation, Luxon said "absolutely". 

But his promise was thrown into question when National's finance spokesperson and Deputy Leader Nicola Willis told Q&A on Sunday it was "undecided" whether the party's health funding would match inflation. 

Speaking with AM on Wednesday, Luxon repeatedly re-confirmed his promise to match inflation before backflipping at the last moment. 

"We are going to increase the health and education budget each and every year that we are in Government," Luxon initially said on Wednesday. 

When Bridge pushed to confirm those increases would match inflation, Luxon again said the budget would be increased every year. 

When he was again asked to confirm it would keep pace with inflation as promised, Luxon said he and Willis were in agreement over spending. 

When asked whether Willis' comments on Q&A were wrong then, Luxon said they were both right before suggesting some years funding wouldn't actually keep pace with inflation. 

"We're both right, we're both going to make sure we increase our funding on health and education," he said. 

"I can tell you for many years it will probably be ahead of inflation, some years it might be behind but over the long run we are going to be increasing health and education consistently each and every year that we are in Government. So people shouldn't be concerned about that."

His comments have been slammed by the unions representing healthcare workers. 

The Public Service Association hit out at the politician on Wednesday saying the healthcare system shouldn't be used as a political football. 

"Our health system needs sustained investment, and we need political parties to acknowledge and commit to the investment that is needed," PSA national secretary Kerry Davies said. 

"We understand that different parties may have different ideas about where that investment is needed most, but we are sure that all would agree that health is a top priority for our society. 

"New Zealanders and health workers do not want their health or profession being used as a political football."

Davies said essential services need investment so they can keep people healthy and called for a bipartisan agreement to fix worker shortages in the sector. 

"We want to see Government and opposition parties commit to fixing workforce shortages and eliminate inequities in the health system; both for health workers and for the people who currently don't get the care they need."

It was a sentiment echoed by E tū who said it was appalling Luxon had backtracked on his commitment. 

"E tū is appalled to hear this morning that National Party leader Christopher Luxon has reneged on a commitment to keep health and education funding at least in line with inflation.

"The back track has sent shockwaves through the health community, with many worrying that National will cut funding when and where it is needed most," E tū said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman said Luxon's comments are just one example of the National Party "not understanding the reality of challenges in health funding". 

"We actually need more than just keeping up with inflation in health funding, given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the much-needed improvements to health infrastructure, and the changing demographics in our population," Newman said. 

"To indicate that funding won't even keep up with inflation is just astounding and will amount to cuts to the health system in real terms.

"The final insult is that National's gutting of the health system will be to pay for a wildly irresponsible tax cut plan that will give top earners tens of thousands of dollars a year."

Newman's concerns were shared by Middlemore Hospital theatre orderlyTaatahi Phillips who said he and his colleagues are very concerned about what a National Government would mean for them. 

"We still have a way to go, but we have seen a massive pay increase under Labour. The old regime was broken, and they are fixing it. Labour might be getting the blame because everyone wants problems fixed tomorrow, but we are in a lot better position than we were," Phillips said. 

"We are finally starting to see the positives of the new money that has been invested in the new health system. It might still be in the teething stage, but it is real progress.

"We really do dread what will happen if National gets in. If we start going backwards again, well, I don't know what to say. My daughter says 'Dad, come over to Australia'. Any more cuts will just make the brain drain worse."