Newshub Nation Health Debate: Labour's Dr Ayesha Verrall and National's Dr Shane Reti clash over whether National will increase frontline health funding

Labour's Dr Ayesha Verrall and National's Dr Shane Reti came together to debate their case for the future of New Zealand's health system which is currently facing crises on all fronts.

And while they agreed that GPs need more support, they clashed over whether National could provide it.  

Labour has pushed for Kiwis to go to their GPs before going to hospital in an effort to reduce the pressure on struggling hospital emergency departments.

But with clinics closing, it's taking weeks in some areas to get appointments.   

There is currently no policy from Labour to provide extra support to GPs.

However, Labour's health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall told Simon Shepherd on Newshub Nation's Health Debate that "we do want to make sure that in the next term of Government a lot of our investment is in general practice and we want to make sure that we are bringing care closer to peoples' homes".  

Despite a record health spend, there has been no substantial funding increase for GPs during Labour's two terms, and Dr Verrall said "I agree, that will be a priority for the next term".  

"During the COVID response, we used other instruments to fund general practice and now we need to transition to increasing the baseline, as we have done," she said, referring to the highest-level increase in general practice funding in "a long time".  

Dr Verrall said that Labour had done a number of things on the general practice front in the short term, such as "general practice trainees being paid the same as hospital specialist trainees now".  

"We're making sure that general practices are paid to fill long vacancies, particularly if they're rural," she added.   

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said "I am a GP so I understand the need for frontline support".  

"Fundamentally we need more GPs, and we need to look at how we retain those we have, because there are significant remuneration issues for general practice at the moment as well," he said.  

Dr Reti also said that New Zealand needs to look at scope extension to use others "who can provide primary care and come to the primary care interface to do more".  

The question remains as to what funding National will provide to allow New Zealanders to see GPs in a timely manner when they need.  

Dr Reti said that "you'll have to wait for the rest of our manifesto to be released".  

"Our fiscal plan will explain how we're going to fund what we're going to deliver in the manifesto." 

Training more doctors will not alleviate the urgent lack of specialists in the country at the moment, a problem compounded by specialists currently striking.    

Dr Reti said the problem fundamentally comes back to the workforce.  

Dr Verrall went on the attack and said: "The problem Dr Reti has is that his party is not able to give a clear commitment to increasing health funding in line with inflation."

Dr Reti committed to "increasing health funding for the frontline, at least in line with inflation".  

Dr Verrall then asked: "Is laboratory frontline? Is radiology frontline? All of those essential services."  

"The frontline are those that get really close to the patient and have the patient interface," Dr Reti replied.  

"Are X-ray workers on the frontline? Because those services are critical," Dr Verrall pushed.  

Dr Reti said National "doesn't necessarily" have a problem identifying what qualifies as frontline and what qualifies as backline.  

He went on, "what you've also seen is the Labour Government saying they will reduce the back line staff as well as part of reprioritisation".  

"What is backline, in my view, is the PR consultants and communications people that we have across the sector who I think are too many," he said.  

Te Whatu Ora told Newshub Nation they have 154 communications consultants, and Dr Verrall said they were serving a workforce of over 62,000.

Dr Reti said that was "too many".  

"And then you add those from the Ministry of Health as well," he said.

"I need real doctors, not spin doctors."  

Dr Verrall replied that under Labour, $119 million had been saved on sensible back-room savings.  

"What's going on here is the National Party are trying to leave themselves wiggle room about deciding which services they will fund and which they won't," she said.  

"When they've got a $2.1 billion hole in their tax costings, what that means is they'll have to find these savings in the health system.

"That means there will be frontline service cuts," she said.  

Dr Reti denied this.   

Watch the full video for more. 

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