Nats plan spending spree on health

By Martin Johnston

The tax-cutting National Party wants to spend well over $100 million a year of taxpayers' money on new health projects, according to a draft of its health policy.

But the documents - the fourth National policy to be released by the Labour-led Government following a leak - give no hint of how high National's health spending will go if it wins the election.

Entitled National's Health Policy, draft confidential, they outline plans for a spending spree on new operating theatres, more state-funded use of private hospitals, and a star-rating system for district health boards.

The number of bureaucrats would be capped, losses of health workers overseas would gradually reduce because of tax cuts, and voluntary bonding would be offered in return for student loan debt write-offs in hard-to-staff places and specialties.

But National is refusing to discuss most of the plans in the documents, which say the party will maintain the Government's budgeted health spending projections - "not a dollar less than Labour".

When Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton released the documents yesterday, he tried to embarrass National with them in the House. He emphasised their headline-grabbing ideas, like the statement that National would in the "short-term" continue with the current funding and approach to primary health care, while a proper evaluation was completed.

He interpreted this to mean the Government's universal subsidies, which have reduced the cost of going to the doctor for many, including the wealthy, will be scrapped by National.

But he did not draw attention to the line in the document that says National will "maintain the current universal GP subsidy system, including the fees review process".

National's health spokesman, Tony Ryall, rebuffed attempts to clarify the draft documents, which he said were "written by researchers some months ago".

"Policy evolves and we will be announcing our policies over the coming weeks."

But after a damaging gaffe over primary health care fees last year, he did emphasise yesterday that his party would not decrease GP subsidies. "In fact, over time these subsidies will only go up. There will be no change to prescription charges."

Asked how long this policy would last, he said: "Certainly [for] the term of the National government."

Highlights from the draft policy:

* Building 20 operating theatres over three years. Capital cost $165 million over four years.

* Training an extra 750 health workers. Cost around $20 million a year.

* Giving a 30 per cent health insurance rebate, up to $500 a year, to those aged 65 or older. Cost $40 million a year at first.

* Capping health bureaucrat numbers.

* Gradually increasing medicines funding to match Australia's per-head level. Initial boost of $20 million a year.

* Prostate cancer testing programme for men over 50 with a close family history of the disease. Not costed.

* Developing a dental assistance programme for over-65s. Not costed.

* Giving an extra $15 million to hospices.

* Annual total: More than $100 million.

- NZ Herald

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