Worry Turns to Crisis at Health Board
Our Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has just announced a deficit of $20.5m. A month ago I wrote of my worry that they were estimating a deficit of $11.3m. A year ago the budget was for a surplus of $0.5m. This deterioration is a serious financial crisis that puts our critical health services under enormous pressure.
The largest previous deficit was $5.4m in 2010. I know how tough it was on services and staff to put this right. It took years. The National Government increased the annual budget of our DHB by over $100m per year between 2008 and 2017. Our DHB has been in good financial shape for the past six years, posting surpluses of $0.9m in 2015, $1.5m in 2016 and $3.2m in 2017.
The root cause of our DHB’s financial crisis is the Government providing insufficient funding for wage settlements, holiday and employment law changes and pharmaceuticals.
It is easy for Ministers to argue for higher wages, to pass laws increasing worker entitlements and to raise levies and taxes. The problem is that these put up costs for our board, and if not properly funded, create a financial crisis. Our DHB is also having to cope with a growing and aging population.
These financial problems are impacting on the delivery of health services. We are seeing a deterioration in key health targets within Nelson and Marlborough. The proportion of people getting cancer treatment on time has gone backwards from 96.1% when National left office to 90.3%. The performance of our emergency department has fallen from 94% to 92%. I am getting an increased number of Nelson patients complaining of cancelled specialist consultations and delayed surgery.
These problems are not unique to Nelson. The combined deficits of all 20 DHBs has topped $500m. The Minister admitted in Parliament last week that 61 national measures of health services have got worse as compared to 27 improved since the change of Government. For example, people that are not immunised nationally has increased 20% from 7.7% in 2017 to 9.9% today, contributing to the current measles epidemic.
National has been putting the pressure on Labour over cancer care and pharmaceuticals promising in July a big budget boost and a new Cancer Control Agency. The drug budget was increased by an average of $24m under National Government but Labour opted for only $5m in Budget 2018 and 2019. It is good news that this error has been corrected with the weekend announcement by Government for additional drug funding and the new cancer agency.
Nelson’s health deficit requires the same urgent attention from Government. The Board cannot fix this $20m hole without cutting core services. It cannot wait until Budget 2020. Health Board candidates in the current elections are campaigning in a vacuum. I am also concerned it will delay progress with the important redevelopment project of Nelson’s earthquake prone hospital buildings.
I have invited Minister Clark to Nelson to meet community leaders, our Board and prospective health board candidates. We need assurances that this crisis will be fixed.