The recent budget increases made to Vote Health have clearly got to be seen as recognition of the pressures on New Zealand’s health system that have been added to by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But, there’s a sting in the tail of the more than $5 billion extra allocation over the next 4-5 years as there is little indication contained in the budget appropriations that much, or any, of this funding will be used to transform and future-proof the delivery of health and disability services in this country.
Making a difference
Sitting in the budget lock-up in the Beehive back in 2015 I recall the then Minister of Health talking about the immense pressure on the system and how the extra funding being allocated was going to make a big difference to all New Zealanders.
We’re now five years further on with a total of $5 billion received through to 2020 and yet I still hear the same rhetoric despite the change of Government and Minister, and the highly touted record funding increases that have occurred over the past three years. This is not a party political statement as the health system has been let down by successive governments for at least the past 20 years.
We must now ask ourselves if the extra $5 billion already spent has made the promised difference and, if not, how do we know the next $5 billion pot of gold is going to move us towards the holy grail of a world class health system or will were main in a perpetual catch-up loop?
It is well understood that technology can, and must, play a much bigger role, but where was the specific investment contained in the budget? There needs to be a catalyst for change and it needs to happen now.
Releasing the report
There must be no further delays from Minister Clark in releasing the findings and recommendations of the comprehensive report of the health and disability system review panel.
There is now a groundswell of support for this report to be made public and the high priority recommendations put into play as soon as possible.
It has taken nearly two years and many millions of taxpayers’ investment to produce the report, so it is imperative to release it without further delay.
When the review panel was established, NZHIT supported the minister’s initiative and has actively engaged to provide input relating to virtual and digital health.
If the release of the full report is not palatable at the moment, I strongly urge the minister to seriously consider releasing the recommendations as they relate to data and digital technologies.
Significantly, the interim report released in August 2019 highlighted advances in digital technologies would have huge potential to enable an information-rich, data-driven, people powered approach to health care and to support the health sector in achieving better outcomes.
Seizing the opportunity
The rapid change we’ve already seen in recent weeks during the lockdown combined with having a number of sound digital systems and good leadership already in place means we must seize the opportunity with both hands to push on with the national health information platform.
The business case currently sits with Cabinet for approval, identifying the key priority areas so we can get on with the job.
There’s one thing we know for sure and that is full-enablement of digital technology must happen if we truly want to have a world class health system for all New Zealanders.
Choosing to not grab this opportunity with both hands will continue to make this an aspiration that becomes increasingly unachievable regardless of the many billions of dollars that keep getting spent to support doing what has always been done.
Scott Arrol is the CEO of New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT).