Budget 2014: Over 400,000 children to get free GP visits

Photo / Sarah Ivey
Photo / Sarah Ivey

More than 400,000 school children will be entitled to free GP visits through one of the biggest surprises in the Budget 2014.

Free doctor's visits for children will be extended from six up to the age of 13 under a $90 million allocation announced in the Budget.

An extra $1.8 billion has been allocated for the health sector for the next four years under the Budget, taking heath spending to a record $15.6 billion over the next year.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the $1.8 billion bonus has been allocated to meet cost pressures and population growth.

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"This is made up of $1.39 billion of new money and $412 million of savings."

Other major announcements from the Budget include a $200 million investment from the Future Investment Fund for health sector projects, including the new Grey Base Hospital on the West Coast.

Expanding the Government's free GP visit and prescription scheme to include six to 12-year-olds will benefit more than 400,000 more children, Mr Ryall said.

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Under the scheme, all primary school aged children can go to a doctor for free, any time of the day, as well as being entitled to free prescriptions, he said.

Parents shouldn't be put off getting medical assistance for their young children because of the cost, Mr Ryall said.

"This is an important preventative health measure, as parents will be more likely to take their child to the doctor for treatment before their condition becomes severe. It will also help reduce the number of children presenting at our busy hospital emergency departments with an illness that a GP could have treated."

The scheme would be offered to general practices from July 1, 2015.

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Of the 1029 general practices nationwide, 1004 practices had opted into the free under-sixes scheme and subsequently 98 per cent of children under six can go to the doctor for free.

The Government had also allocated an additional $23.7 million over four years to support general practices, Mr Ryall said.

"This includes $8.9 million of extra funding for rural general practices and a further $13.3 million to provide a third of New Zealanders with low-cost doctors' visits."

Other new health funding boosts include an extra $112.1 million for disability health services, $110 million for elective surgery, $96 million for increased home-based support services and $33 million for better cancer services.

District health boards would also benefit from a funding increase, gaining around $320 million for extra services, Mr Ryall said.

While many developed countries were freezing or reducing their health funding, New Zealand's Government was growing public health services, he said.

"Despite tight financial times, this Government has invested an additional $3.34 billion of new operating and capital funding into health in the past five years."

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Health budget allocations to take effect over the next four years:

* $90 million to make GP visits and prescriptions free for children aged under 13
* An extra $112.1 million for disability support services.
* An additional $110 million for elective surgery.
* $96 million for home-based support services.
* $40 million for a new Healthy Families NZ campaign, encouraging New Zealanders to eat healthier and exercise more.
* $40 million in additional support for elderly people including people with dementia.
* $32.7 million for faster cancer treatment, including $8 million to increase the number of colonoscopies performed.
* A further $20 million for the rheumatic fever prevention programme.
* $17.8 million for post-graduate education and training of doctors.
* $6.3 million to provide bilateral cochlear implants for children under 18.
* $4 million to increase the number of renal transplants performed.

- NZ Herald

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