• More capital for DHBs to fix building issues

• Free and cheap GP visits extended to thousands more people

• Community midwives to get 8.9 per cent 'catch-up' pay increase


Cheaper doctor visits for more than 600,000 New Zealanders mark a win for health, but a sector leader warns it could put GPs under increased strain.

From December 1, free GP visits and prescriptions will be extended to all children under 14, up from under 13s, along with cheaper rates for Community Service Card users.

That comes at a cost of $384.7 million over four years.

New Zealand Medical Association GP council chairwoman Dr Jan White said it was news worth celebrating. But without an increase in GP training places there was a risk of the policy being "self-defeated".

"The Government does need to be mindful of the increased demand it will bring for GPs," 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."

The Budget also delivered $750m to district health boards for capital spending to tackle urgent building needs for hospitals around the country.

"That represents the biggest capital injection in health in at least the last decade, " Health Minister David Clark said yesterday.

Clark said New Zealanders had been shocked to discover that hospitals in some areas are literally rotting after a decade of neglect and underinvestment by the previous Government.

"There is a significant backlog of work, which will take more than one Budget to remedy."

But some experts have suggested yesterday's health funding announcement "only scratches the surfaces".

The Government had earlier forecast health boards needed $14b for capital alone over the next 10 years.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) director of policy and research Lyndon Keene said this year's Budget allocation was much bigger than last year's $150m but a lot more was needed.

"The $750m is only a small chunk of that but I guess it's a start."

That money was in addition to a $3.2b boost for health services over four years, announced yesterday.

Keene said it didn't stack up to the $8b promised by Labour pre-election and on the face it didn't seem sufficient to plug the shortfall.

"The health sector is still going to be under a lot of pressure but at least it has managed to maintain current levels of service and not dropped like it has done in the past."

Community-based midwives 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.