Government sets five health targets, promises to extend workforce to deliver better outcomes for Kiwis

The National Government has released five key targets it hopes will deliver better health outcomes for Kiwis, including better vaccine rates for children and shorter wait times in emergency departments.

Health Minister Shane Reti made the announcement in Whangārei on Friday, saying "the health system went backwards under the previous government and its failure to drive targets".

"Having effective targets and reporting on them publicly helps identify where there are problems and how we can take action to improve them."

The five targets are focused on delivering faster cancer treatment, improved immunisation rates, shorter stays in emergency departments (Eds), shorter wait times for first specialist assessments (FSAs) and shorter times for elective treatment.

The Government set a new target which means 90 percent of patients would receive cancer management within 31 days of the decision to treat.  

"Cancer touches thousands of Kiwi families each year and although our Government has already made a number of advancements, including steps to raise the breast screening age, providing increased access to PET-CT scanning and more cancer drugs, we know there’s still a long way to go," Reti said.

When it comes to vaccines, a controversial topic especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government set a target for 95 percent of children to be fully immunised at 24 months of age.

Reti said currently New Zealand sits at a “disappointing” 83 percent when it comes to immunising our tamariki - well behind countries like the UK, Australia and Canada. 

The best we’ve ever achieved was 93 percent around 10 years ago. We need to do much better for our children," he said.

As Kiwis experience long delays to be seen at emergency departments, the Government’s now aiming for 95 percent of patients to be admitted, discharged or transferred from an ED within six hours. 

"We will be working hard on keeping people out of the EDs and avoiding bed block when they need to be admitted to hospital," Reti said, adding "shorter stays in ED are a snapshot of how the whole health system is coping as the interface between community and hospital care".

Also, the Government wants to see 95 percent of patients wait less than four months for an FSA – up on the current 66 per cent in the same period - and 95 percent of patients to wait less than four months for elective treatment, that’s for treatments like hip or knee surgeries.

Reti admitted these wait times were tough on the last government and “will be for us too”.

"COVID-19 has had an influence but wait lists were rising in the years before it even arrived," he said.

"It is important that we are ambitious in trying to achieve better health outcomes for New Zealanders."

Reti said New Zealand’s health workforce was key to reaching these targets, so promised to build that workforce as a priority.

"We know how committed the health workforce is and how hard they are working," he said.

"We are unapologetically an outcomes-driven Government. In health, that means setting targets which will deliver better results for all New Zealanders."

Health New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora will report progress regularly, publishing transparent results on each of the five targets every quarter. 

The targets come into effect on July 1, with the first quarterly results for the July – September period.