Health has been called the biggest winner of the 2018 Budget and Tauranga health officials have welcomed the extra funding in primary care and school-based nurses.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced the 2018 Budget, which included $3.2 billion extra for health services over four years, including $2.2b of new capital for district health boards and $126m for elective surgeries and other areas.

Free doctor visits and prescriptions were extended to all children aged under 14, up from under-13s at present.

That will reach 56,000 more children at a cost of $22m over four years, the Government said.


About 540,000 people eligible for Community Services cards will also get $20 to $30 cheaper GP visits.

Eligibility for the Community Services Card will be extended to all people receiving the accommodation supplement or income-related rent subsidy.

Those two initiatives will cost $362.7m over four years.

There was also $750m allocated for hospital upgrades and rebuilds.

The Budget included $17m over four years for expanding the nurses in schools programme to all public decile 4 secondary schools, covering an extra 24,000 students.

The programme currently covers decile 1 to 3 secondary schools and teen-parent units.

Dr Luke Bradford, from 5th Avenue Family Practice in Tauranga, said GPs had campaigned for years to make visits more affordable to those who need it most.

"Cost should not be a barrier to access to healthcare. As such I fully welcome and support the cheaper visits for CSC holders and extending free visits to 13-year-olds and hope it will help people take better control of their health and wellbeing."


Dr Bradford, also the co-chair of the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, said money invested into primary care services is known to cut costs further up the chain.

"So the $385m looks well spent to me as it will save hospital services costs down the line," he said.

"Engagement with a GP can move from being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when unwell to a more proactive relationship where we can help people to live well and stay well once cost is removed as a factor."

Bradford was also pleased with the expansion of school-based nurses.

"Encouraging young people to engage with their health needs through whichever avenue works for them best, is vital. I think the extra funding for maternity services is also vitally needed."

Dr Symon Roberton, director of Papamoa Pines Medical Centre, said he and his GP colleagues welcomed any improved access to healthcare which included making it more affordable.

He said while encouraged by such announcements, he would wait for the specifics on how the funding works – "and where the $385m actually goes" – before deciding whether it was a good thing for everyone.

Dr Roberton said he was very happy to see an increase in secondary school-based healthcare.

"As personally I believe this is a fantastic way to access young people who tend to be a largely neglected group in health. I would advocate for all schools primary to secondary having access to nurse or remote doctor prescribing clinics."

Bay of Plenty District Health Board chairwoman Sally Webb said the health announcement meant extra revenue for the district health board this year, "so that's always a plus".

"Some of the other areas that I think are real plusses are the midwives, we all know that the maternity services have been getting quite stretched in places and so that will be a plus for mothers and children across the Bay," Webb said.

She also praised the extra funding for primary healthcare.

"Lowering the fee for a certain number of people is always a plus because the quicker people get into primary care, when they need a doctor and go and see their GP, the better it is for them."

The National Bowel Screening Programme received a boost of $67.1m over four years to expand the programme to another five DHBs on top of the five already in operation.

The money will also go towards establishing a national co-ordination centre, four regional screening centres and IT for the programme.

Webb said of the Bowel Screening Programme: "That's a programme that we are looking to be part of rolling out and wanting not to delay that, so that will be good."

As for the $750m for hospital upgrades and rebuilds, she said the region was quite well served by facilities and there were other areas with greater need.

"That's not to say that we haven't got facilities in the Bay of Plenty that need upgrading, there's always work that needs doing, but it's about where the big priorities are. I think there will be enough big national ones that we won't see anything from that."

Other health initiatives being funded are:
•$112m more for community midwives, including 8.9 per cent fee increase to level them with DHB midwives.
•$60m over four years, as well as $22.9m from ACC, to strengthen and modernise the national air ambulance fleet.
•A one-off $1m for work to develop a free annual health check for all SuperGold card-holders, an initiative agreed in negotiations with NZ First.
•$10.5m over three years will fund a pilot programme giving young people aged 18-25 free mental health counselling and therapy, a Green Party initiative.
•Up to another $100m over 10 years was set aside for DHBs struggling with deficits.