Loma-Linda Tasi, TEU member and senior nurse lecturer in the Whitireia Faculty of Health, looks at the Government’s historic spending on health and the need to ensure the health response looks to the future while maintaining the gains made through previous Budgets.

The announcement yesterday that Budget 2020 will see almost $5.6 billion invested in the health sector in responding to COVID-19 while maintaining the sustainable delivery of existing services, will come as a relief to health professional and all New Zealander’s as we face the impact of the global pandemic.

The spending on health, which includes $3.9 billion of operating funding for all District Health Boards represents the largest ever annual investment in our DHBs and will ensure they can continue providing essential health services for our growing and changing population.

Those of us working in health know of the many challenges the sector faces, even before the added burden on health services posed by COVID-19. Workforce capacity in my area of nursing has been a persistent issue, and we continue to function on the edge of what is acceptable. With an ageing workforce, with many heading into retirement, and with an increasing need for aged-care nurses and carers, we need to ensure we continue to meet the needs of the health sector and of our population. The increase in health spending provides us with some confidence that we are headed in the right direction in meeting that challenge.

Budget 2020 also saw the announcement of $900 million to support whānau, hapū and iwi to deal with the fall-out of Covid-19, including a crucial $137 million boost to Whānau Ora.

Funding to Whānau Ora from previous rounds meant that there was much-need whānau support ready to respond to the sudden and dramatic change New Zealand’s lockdown period caused for whānau. Through Whānau Ora, there were essential services geared up to not only communicate clear messages and support to whānau in their homes, but also capabilities for identifying exactly what whānau needed and how to maintain a sense of support over the period of isolation. The new funding will boost that support, and help address those needs in the community, prior to whānau presenting to primary health care or hospital services.

Health professionals will understandably be disappointed and concerned that general practice was left out of Budget 2020, and will hope this gap will be addressed through further support to the health sector in coming months. Here, again, the boost to Whānau Ora will be crucial in reducing the burden on secondary care services until the short fall in primary health care is addressed.

Last year, the Government’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ provided a huge boost to Mental Health services, and increasing capacity for mental health service provision at the primary health care level. From a nurse educators point of view, that boost was a timely inclusion to Budget 2019. Budget 2020 must aid in developing what has been achieved in mental health and wellbeing services, much of which remains in the implementation stage.

For nursing students, when they are feeling safe and not worried about how they are going to get school or how they are going to pay their power bill, or if their house is warm enough for their kids, they can successfully get through their studies, and achieve their dreams of serving their community. Students’ mental health and wellbeing, and managing their health at all levels is a big part of that. Budget 2020, with its historic spend on health must continue to support the gains made through the Wellbeing Budget, even as it grapples with recovering from the global pandemic.