Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Bled dry trying to stay well


When budgeting for healthcare, more money is never enough.

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Whoever said health was a sumphole for money was right on the, err ... money. It's also, according to people like commentator Bernard Hickey, helping to make our entire economy into a bit of a sinking ship.

He says public healthcare costs are projected to rise from 6.9 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 11.1 per cent by 2060; our budget deficit will triple by that time as well, partly as a result of those healthcare costs, combined with pension payments (assuming super continues to be paid out across the board at 65).

With total spending on health in the 2012-13 year projected to be $14.75 billion, it boggles the mind just how high this figure could become in time - and how we are going to pay for it.

While healthcare practitioners, especially those in the public system, paddle like hell to keep patients well cared for, money is pouring out at an alarming rate, into ever more costly treatments and procedures for a growing number of the afflicted. Diabetes alone is estimated to add an extra $1 billion to the health budget each year.

Even the Minister of Health Tony Ryall - this week anointed Best Health Minister God ever put a Skin Around in the yearly ranking of ministers - seems powerless to stem the tide of sickliness that will surely, eventually, bankrupt the country.

Still, we can probably all think of areas within health that seem to attract an almost lavish amount of spending.

Maternity, in my opinion, is one. In our major hospitals our birthing equipment and surrounds are state of the art.

The rational is compelling, though: stronger mother-baby bonds, healthier and happier childhoods, better prepared learners in schools, and well-adjusted taxpayers at the end of it all.

But surely fathers and their babies should bond as well? That's the conclusion reached by Britain's Health Minister Dan Poulter, who is weighing up legislating to ensure that all maternity units provide double beds so men can stay in with their partners in the first few days of new babyhood.

Birthing units will also have to build larger birthing pools - so men can also hop in during labour, giving more hands-on support - if they want extra funding.

The proposals come at a bad time for Vote Health in Britain, when the NHS has been asked to trim its budget by £20 billion ($38.9 billion).

The proposals to make men feel more at home in the birthing suite will add only a relatively small £25 million in the beginning - but the country is facing a baby boom, with this year's 700,000 babies being the highest number of births since 1971.

It's a perfect example of why health budgets are fiendishly hard to juggle to everyone's satisfaction.

An added investment in preventive measures here - in this case, family bonding with newborns - leads inevitably to a shortfall somewhere else.

Do we favour the new mother over the 75-year-old? Do we try to detect more cervical cancer while whooping cough prevention goes begging?

In the end it seems inevitable that patients of all stripes will bear more of the cost themselves, and no matter how much we spend, the system will continue to be found wanting.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton:

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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