Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Bay health needs not met, Labour claims

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The Labour Party is calling for an independemt inquiry into the level of unmet health care needs amid claims that the Government slashed health budgets since coming to power.

Labour's Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Annette King made the revelation when talking to a roomful of local residents in Tauranga yesterday about her and her party's growing concerns about the lack of access to primary health services.

Mrs King said greater access and more affordable health care for all were top priorities for a Labour-led Government.

"The chronic underfunding of the health budget to the tune of $1.7 billion slashed from health budget since National has been in Government is appalling...This is shocking figure and the impacts clearly underlines how far these missing dollars have hurt our public health system," she said.

Mrs King said new figures from the Ministry of Health showed 12 out of 20 district health boards had not been fully funded this year to cope with our aging population.

"Last year nearly 45,000 Kiwis were sent back to their GPs without even getting to see a specialist, or being given an any indication when they might be given an appointment."

Mrs King said the latest statistics showed that number had been consistently "very high" in the Bay of Plenty region.

Labour was calling for an independent inquiry into the level of unmet health needs across the country, she said.

"What we need is to ascertain the level of unmet need and once we know the size of the problem, we then need to ensure we get more consistency of access around the country.

"We also need to ensure we provide more services to as many people as we possibly can from the public purse because that's what is expected by most people."

Mrs King also took the chance to outline Labour's Strategic Health Policy which she said included eight health priority areas that needed urgent attention.

That included mental health services which had been "woefully" under-funded for years.

Many in the crowd thanked Mrs King and applauded Labour's health policy strategies.

Pensioner Neville Lowry, who is also chairperson of Tauranga Labour Electorate Committee, said he fully backed Labour's health policies and funding direction.
"Health is one of the most important components of a robust fair society, he said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said claims by the Government's critics that health funding had been cut were incorrect, and delivering better health services remained the Government's "number one" funding priority.

"Under this Government health expenditure share of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] has averaged 6.5 per cent - that's up from the previous Government's level of under six per cent. Over the last eight years, health funding has kept ahead of demographic pressure and inflation."

Mr Coleman said new funding for Bay of Plenty DHB in Budget 2016 increased it's total allocation to a record level, with an extra $32m of new money being received this year, taking the DHB's total funding to $718 million for 2016/17.

"DHBs will benefit from an extra $1.6 billion over four years to invest in services, improve access, and to meet cost pressures and population changes."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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