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New Zealand

National to go hard, early on vaccination

Election 2023

National’s leader all but rules out anti-vaxxers in a Cabinet he leads as he announces cash incentives to raise immunisation rates, alongside restored health targets.

Christopher Luxon is dismissing other potential coalition parties’ accommodation for anti-vaccination advocates, saying National is pressing ahead with boosting preventive health measures with payments to GPs.

National used a campaign visit by its leader to Totara Health in New Lynn to unveil five health targets for the health system, restoring some of its goals from its past time in government, which Labour removed. The targets include A&E time limits, cancer treatment, improved immunisation for two-year-olds, teens and superannuitants, specialist waiting times and limits on surgery backlogs.

The one-off payments programme for immunisation would see GPs paid $10 per enrolled patient on their books if they lift rates for childhood immunisations, MMR in under 18s and flu vaccinations for those aged 65 and above by five percentage points among the eligible by the end of June 2024.

Christopher Luxon announcing new health targets at New Lynn. Photo: Tim Murphy

Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said that could mean, for example, $45,000 for a clinic with several GPs and 4,500 enrolled patients if it met the three improvement measures.

“National is particularly concerned by falling childhood immunisation rates and money spent now to lift them will prevent misery, illness and deaths.”

The party estimates the potential overall cost of the boost at $52m if all GP clinics meet the goal.

Reti said there was no doubt vaccine hesitancy had increased post-Covid. That was why National’s target copied the incumbent government’s measure of the “eligible population” or those willing to be vaccinated. It excluded those who declined or opted off the national register.

To questioning from journalists at the New Lynn centre, Luxon said he was not thinking about how other parties with anti-vaccination candidates or members might factor into a National-led government or its health policy.

“I don’t know who has got antivax candidates or not… I’m focused on the National Party. I don’t care about other parties.”

Told both Act and New Zealand First – potential centre-right governing partners – had anti-vax candidates, and pressed on whether any could end up around a Luxon-led Cabinet table, he first said “I don’t think so,” but then firmed that answer to “We’re not going to do that.”

Luxon essentially confirmed Reti would be the health minister, if National wins, not someone from Act or elsewhere. “He’s going to make an outstanding health minister. No doubt about that. Who else would you want doing that job?”

Luxon said National was “obsessed” with building a health plan with redirected funding, workforce answers and cheaper cancer drugs. “It’s important that we put healthcare targets in place so everyone is clear what they need to do each and every day.”

National has committed to “increasing funding in health and education each and every year” – which would not be new, as most governments do so annually because of population growth or inflation.

Asked where National would find enough funds to satisfy its new five performance targets, and how much more it could add to the health budget, Luxon answered broadly: “Look, we will continue to invest in healthcare. Much more important is that we also deliver outcomes, because this is a government that’s spent tens of billions of dollars more on health care. It’s also hired thousands more public servants and actually delivered worse outcomes.

“As I’ve said before we will be focused and obsessed on outcomes.”

But could National afford the extra funding needed to meet its new goals? “Well, we have to.”

The party believes there is too much spent on the bureaucracy and back office functions of health and not enough on the frontline. But it was pointed out to Luxon that the Labour government’s big merger of district health boards into one entity, Te Whatu Ora, had supposedly found much of that efficiency in system overlap and support functions.

“Well I think there’s a huge amount of bureaucracy sitting there still and I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to make sure we get our investments in the front line.”

The five targets are:

  • having 95 percent of patients admitted, discharged or transferred from an emergency department within six hours
  • 85 percent of cancer patients receiving “cancer management” within 31 days of the decision to treat
  • 95 percent of two-year-olds receiving their full age-appropriate immunisations, lifts to rates of MMR for under-18s and flu jabs for those over 65
  • “a meaningful reduction” in the numbers waiting more than four months to see a specialist 
  • “a meaningful reduction” in the numbers waiting more than four months for surgery

Reti said National had not set a surgery target because the last available statistics were released in March, with an update due two weeks after the election, so it would wait until it had the correct information and set the goal while in government.

Labour’s Health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall said many of National’s targets – and a similar scheme to the immunisation payment – were already in place.

“National has cut and pasted a number of health targets Labour’s already set and slapped their logo on it,” she said.

“We’re already well on the way to achieving no one waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery. We’ve already increased the payment to front-line health providers to help increase immunisation rates. National either aren’t aware or we’re hoping we didn’t notice them flogging our policy.

“We know the last time National put in place a limited number of targets it just shifted resources from one part of the system to another. Like their tax plan that is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/national-health-targets National to go hard, early on vaccination

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