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Nurses say the Budget falls short

Nurses are criticising budget funding for healthcare, saying the government is failing to respond to the frontline crisis.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels said most of this years allocated $1 billion for health was already committed in last year’s budget, and new spending is needed.

The lack of significant additional core funding means the health workforce crisis will continue, she said.

“There was an opportunity in this Budget to commit additional funding beyond the $1.3 billion uplift announced in Budget 2022 that could have meaningfully addressed the workforce shortages and need for improved pay and conditions across the health system.”

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced a suite of health funding initiatives as part of Thursday’s budget.

“The Budget is focused on three service priorities – winter, workforce and waitlists, as we build a more equitable health system,” she said.

Budget 2023 is the second year of multi-year funding, with a $1.3 billion increase for health cost pressures.

“To help stabilise our workforce, we are investing over $1 billion in increasing health workers’ wages and boosting staff numbers, with a focus on areas facing greatest demand,” Verrall said.

This year’s funding included $63 million for progressing safe staffing and allowed for an additional 500 new nurses. Other initiatives included scrapping prescription charges, and increased focus on primary care.

“$118 million has been allocated to help reduce waiting lists by improving patient flow, enabling planned care to be delivered in primary settings and freeing up inpatient hospital beds, allowing for surgeries to go ahead,” Verrall said.

Daniels said while funding for 500 additional nurses is a step in the right direction, 4000 new nurses are needed urgently.

“An additional 500 new nurses will not resolve the burnout and fatigue that chronic staffing shortages bring to the workplace.”

Wairarapa Hospital NZNO delegate Amber Cox echoed Daniels’ sentiments.

“The government is not doing enough to address the nursing crisis facing New Zealand,” she said.

“Wairarapa Hospital currently has an ongoing need to increase the number of full-time equivalent nurses. This increase would allow current nursing staff to be upskilled and trained.”

Cox said funding should be aimed at attracting and recruiting nurses.

“The prohibitive costs faced by student nurses need to be addressed.”

Daniels said while nurses and other health workers are on the frontline every day working under pressure, the seriousness of the situation seems to be eluding the government.

“There is a growing exodus of nurses from the New Zealand health system who need to be retained. While there are inevitable delays to growing a skilled and regulated workforce to the degree needed in the short term, there are steps that can be taken to recruit, attract and train nurses. Nothing in this budget addresses the need for increased funding for training, for example.”

An NZNO statement said scrapping prescription fees and emphasising primary care will take some pressure off the system, but there is inadequate funding to help frontline staff deliver accessible, safe and timely care.

“Increased funding for pay parity in primary healthcare will be welcomed to address disparities.

“However, there are many other nurses who have not been valued in this Budget, with no mention of the cost of living pay increases for them,” the statement said.

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