Cheaper doctor visits for over 600,000 New Zealanders marks a win for health, but with that comes a growing strain on GPs.
The Government announced yesterday that free doctor visits and prescriptions will be extended to all children under 14, up from under 13s at present, as well as Community Service Card users.
While it was news worth congratulating, the Government does need to be mindful of the increased demand it will bring for GPs, says New Zealand Medical Association GP council chairwoman Dr Jan White.
"Any announcement that helps provide equal access to primary is welcomed by us but what wasn't addressed was an increase in GP training numbers which was a little bit disappointing," White said.
Pre-election, Labour promised to increase funding for GP training places from 200 per year to 300.
"I'm hoping it's something that won't fall off the Government's radar, because otherwise this announcement is self-defeating."
Eligibility for the Community Services Card will be extended to all people receiving the accommodation supplement or income-related rent subsidy.
Access to very-low-cost GP visits, around $20 to $30 cheaper, will be extended to all Community Services cardholders.
"These two initiatives will require $362.7 million [over four years] of new funding and will have a major impact on people's health and wellbeing," Health Minister David Clark said.
Clark said the Coalition Government was already supporting middle- and low-income families with the Families Package, which comes into force on July 1 this year.
"Today's announcement gives about 600,000 New Zealanders better access to healthcare from December 1 this year," he said.
White said while the immediate changes were good news, it was incredibly important it was rolled out in a timely fashion.
"We need to ensure there are no disadvantages in GP practices and this needs to be monitored sensibly.
"NZMA and other organisations representing GPs will be making sure this happens and provide the Government with ongoing feedback," White said.
The Government also announced a pay boost for community-based midwives. They will receive an 8.9 per cent "catch-up" increase in their fees, around $4.5m this financial year, to close the pay gap between them and their DHB-employed colleagues.
The move is part of $112.6m over five years for maternity services.
New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) said the announcement was "disappointing".
NZCOM deputy chief executive Alison Eddy said the college had been working hard with the ministry on the new co-design funding model, but felt this had been ignored.
The extra money represented only $200 per community midwife over the nine-month duration of each client.