If health is a winner on Budget Day, we’re all better off

Kerri & Grant TPPA

by NZNO President Grant Brookes and Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku

It’s Budget week. All eyes are on Finance Minister Grant Robertson, and what the government’s first budget has shaped up like. Our eyes of course are primarily on what it means for health.

Kiwis see the need: A third of people think that health should be the top priority on Thursday, according to the last 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. The reasons aren’t hard to find. DHB deficits, crumbling hospital infrastructure and the mental health crisis and health workforce dissatisfaction have made the headlines for months.

A decade of severe underfunding of our public health services has meant our health system has failed to keep pace with our growing community need, the demands of an ageing population and ageing workforce, and increased costs of providing services.

The health system itself is now sick, and needs to be nursed back to health. This is the number one message to the Government from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation on Budget Day. It’s why we’re rallying around the country.

But “health needs nursing” in more ways than one. The nursing team is the largest workforce in health. We are the dedicated, skilled professionals who are with you from the moment you’re born until your last breath.

It is concerning however that this year the rhetoric has been about the “competing demands” on the government, and about expectations that are not likely to be met in a year of spending.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said: “It is as important for us to make sure we meet the competing needs that we have around strong services for health and education as it is to also make sure that we keep the books in good shape, that we are ready for any economic shocks”

While the threat of another earthquake or two is making the government cautious, is it really a case of balancing health against the economy?

World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom stated recently that, “Governments see health as a cost to be contained…This is wrong. Health is an investment to be nurtured.”

In 2016, we took part in a meeting in Geneva to advise the United Nations High-Level Commission on Health, Employment and Economic Growth and here is an extract from its statement:

“The returns on investment in health are estimated to be 9 to 1. One extra year of life expectancy has been shown to raise GDP per capita by about 4 percent.

“Investments in the health system also have multiplier effects that enhance inclusive economic growth, including via the creation of decent jobs. Targeted investment in health systems, including in the health workforce, promotes economic growth.”

Evidently investing in health makes us all better off.

Rebuilding a quality public health system includes investment in the health workforce. To enhance the health and wellbeing of all peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand and to lift our economy, adequate and safe staffing levels in our health services, healthy shift rostering, access to study leave for professional development and full employment of new graduate nurses are vital ingredients.

This will attract students to the profession and retain those already in it. It also leads to a happier, healthier workplace that will also relieve some of the bullying that can occur.

Fair pay, which appropriately recognises our skills and qualifications, naturally also attracts and retains nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.

The health and wellbeing of New Zealanders also depends on other factors surrounding the healthcare system, like having liveable incomes, warm and affordable housing, equitable access to education, nutritious food, and a healthy environment. Therefore NZNO is also assessing Budget 2018 for policies in the social sector and environment that support health and wellbeing.

Tomorrow we will see whether the government has decided to make a sufficient investment in health. We hope for the sake of the health and wellbeing of the population and the nursing workforce especially that it does, if not in one go then we want to see a clear roadmap to recovery of the public health system and workforce itself. As shown in the placards at rallies around the country: The healthcare team needs to be well to keep others well.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has hinted that come Thursday, “Health and Education will get long overdue boosts to their capital and operating funding to deal with cost pressures.”

For all our sakes, the boost must be big enough, and soon.

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