Loma-Linda Tasi, TEU member and senior nurse lecturer in the Whitireia Faculty of Health, looks at  Budget 2021, its focus on wellbeing, and what this means for health and nursing in Aotearoa.

Following on from Budget 2020, which saw a historic boost for the health sector including the largest ever annual investment in our DHBs, Budget 2021 sees a further $2.7 billion additional support over four years for DHBs, and a further $46.7 million a year for primary health care. Coupled with this increased funding, and continuing the Government’s focus on wellbeing, there are also positive signs for the health of Aotearoa New Zealanders when we consider the improved focus on the social determinants of health.

Budget 2021 takes a big step in the right direction in terms of making visible those who have been ignored or neglected in previous budgets and approaches, including Pasifika, Māori, the unemployed, younger people, sole parents, and those with disabilities. It acknowledges that improved health and wellbeing comes when the cost of a visit to a GP is not prohibitive, and doesn’t mean a choice between visiting your doctor or having lunch. It also comes from knowing you have enough money to afford transport to your doctor appointment, and from preventing illness in the first place by having enough money to heat, and perhaps one day even own your own home.

Lifting incomes, taking people out of poverty, improving child health, and ensuring that the environment doesn’t negatively impact on peoples’ health and wellbeing are all foundational approaches that potentially prevent people from needing to access secondary and tertiary healthcare services down the track.

But we also need to ensure we have dedicated and skilled health professionals to support and care for people once those barriers to accessing healthcare have been removed.

Currently the nursing workforce is faced with two intersecting challenges. Many more people are reaching retirement and increasingly needing care and support later in life. And the nursing workforce itself is ageing. Statistics from 2020 show that 43% of nurses are over the age of 50, and 20% are aged 60 or over. This means nursing education is under pressure to produce and support a sound and responsive workforce.

Although not explicitly addressing these challenges, Budget 2021 will do a lot to support our future nurses into training through the Training Incentive Allowance and through additional support for the vocational education and training sector. With two reforms in our health and vocational education systems, respectively, our focus as educators must be to continue to support students to navigate that changing space during a time of transformation.

We need a workforce that is capable of responding to the challenges facing us, and to an increasingly diverse society. But people also need to be happy and healthy to participate in the workforce, to support their aiga, each other, and our economy. TEU will continue to play a key role in ensuring that our future nurses are supported by continuing to support those who train and support them.