Christopher Luxon calls for Government to prioritise more funding for frontline nurses as severe staffing issues cripple sector

Christopher Luxon says National would consider paying nurses and doctors more if elected into Government as the sector continues to deal with severe staffing issues.

It comes after a four-year-old boy died in Wellington Hospital's emergency department after being misdiagnosed and sent home. 

Over the next two days, his condition kept deteriorating so his parents took him back to the hospital where he was admitted straight away but died later that night. Early indications from the pathologist suggest he died from sepsis complications from tonsillitis.

Luxon outlined a list of things National would do, if elected, to help solve the healthcare crisis in New Zealand. 

"We have amazing people in the system, but they are really overburdened. Today we could go into Parliament and we could do what we've talked about, which is fast-track nurses into New Zealand as Australia has been doing," Luxon told AM fill-in co-host Patrick Gower on Wednesday.

"The second thing we need to do is work really hard on making sure we've got targets. We know that the research says that when you have targets, it actually helps save lives... the last thing is the funding. We've got to shift the funding from building a central bureaucracy here in Wellington and make sure that money is going to frontline services, whether it be doctors, nurses or support inside those emergency departments." 

When pressed by Gower if National would increase the pay of nurses and doctors if they were elected, Luxon said it's something they would look at. 

"I think we have to look at their pay. We also have to look at how we're bringing students through our own system and how we're training them and whether there is help and assistance that we can give them for the vocations that we desperately need," he told AM. 

"We've also said very strongly we need to continue to invest more each and every year in our healthcare system." 

The comments come two months after Luxon backtracked on his promise to match healthcare funding to inflation if elected despite repeated assurances his party would.

Luxon previously committed to at a minimum increasing health funding to keep pace with inflation but during an AM interview in August, he re-confirmed his promise before backflipping at the last moment.

Staffing shortages have been plaguing hospitals for much of this year as healthcare workers grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and a particularly bad winter flu season. 

Earlier this month, Te Whatu Ora released data to Newshub showing some regions are short 50 nurses in emergency departments alone. In Canterbury, the data showed it was 12 ED nurses short.

In September, Newshub revealed every month thousands of people are choosing to leave emergency departments instead of waiting for treatment, while the number of patients waiting more than 24 hours in an emergency department is soaring. 

An ED doctor told AM on Tuesday there is no quick fix to the severe staffing issues and she believes the current healthcare crisis is a "systemic issue".

"This is absolutely a systemic issue that has been through successive Governments for many years and it has been building and COVID-19 was not the cause of it," Dr Kate Allan, chair of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, said. 

"It may have broken the back of it and exposed it, but it's definitely not the cause of it and it's not the ongoing problem. This has been in the system for a long time and it's just reached a real crux now."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the Government has prioritised health funding but COVID-19 and staffing shortages put huge pressure on healthcare workers. 

"We've significantly lifted the amount of funding we've given to the health system overall, about a 40 percent increase since we've been in office," Robertson told AM.

"We've increased the number of doctors and nurses we've got but there is a challenge here right now."

Watch the full interview with Christopher Luxon above.