In a discussion document about the health sector released on Thursday, the National Party has promised a suite of changes to the health system if elected to government next year.

Some of the top-line proposals are a $50 million a year cancer drug fund and the reintroduction of National Health Targets. The party is also considering an end to District Health Board elections.

“Services have become harder to access on the current Government’s watch,” Simon Bridges said. “After years of continuous improvement under National, waiting times are increasing and the number of elective surgeries being carried out has reduced.”

The document also took aim at what it sees as ballooning numbers of Ministry of Health “bureaucrats”, from a low of around 1060 in mid-2017 up to around 1170 today.

New health benchmarks

National’s headline proposal in the document was the reintroduction of National Health Targets, “which will be updated and extended to primary providers that receive public funding. Performance against targets will be published.”

The document claimed that “improvements in waiting times due to the target National put in place saved 700 lives every year, and thousands of lives over the period the target was in place”. In addition to waiting times, immunisation targets will be re-established.

DHBs would have to meet new elective surgery targets set by the Government each year. This would use “a common points system across all DHBs” and would seek to make elective surgeries more accessible.

Another major proposition from the document is National’s package of cancer plans. This includes the creation of an independent cancer agency that would sit outside the Ministry of Health and DHBs.

This policy had previously been announced by Bridges in July and the coalition Government moved in September to establish their own national cancer agency. The $50 million a year cancer drugs fund was also a carryover from the party’s July conference. This would be accompanied by $5 million a year to fund medicines for rare disorders.

National has consistently criticised the Government’s cuts to Pharmac funding and has pledged in the document to restore funding for the drug purchasing agency to levels it saw under the last government.

The party says that Pharmac has received just $30 million in funding boosts under the coalition Government, compared to an average increase of $24 million per year under National.

Other proposals varied

The health document – like National’s previous documents on justice, education and the environment, among others – covers a wide range of topics within the sector. It pledges to expand the Childhood Obesity Plan to people of all ages and adding the “Daily Mile” programme, in which children run for 15 minutes a day, to all schools by 2025.

National is also floating the implementation of a mandatory toothbrushing-in-schools programme based on the Scottish Childsmile system. The document states that the programme cost Scotland $2.6 million but saved $12 million in dental costs.

Under a National Government, the number of adult cochlear implants performed each year would more than double, from 40 to 100, the document promises. Specially-trained disability employment advisers could be added to every Work and Income office.

Mental health also comes in for scrutiny in the document. National promises a $10 million fund “to drive innovation in digital mental health services”. Mental health nurses would attend mental health incidents alongside police and paramedics and the commissioning of mental health services would be centralised.

ACC legislation would be amended under National to help firefighters make claims for diseases and cancers contracted on the job, the document states. This would occur through the creation of a list of cancers which would be covered by the corporation if they arise in a firefighter who has met certain conditions.

National is also seeking feedback from the public on whether DHBs should be elected. “We also support the principle of DHBs being locally governed, but want to explore whether the current model of elected DHB governance is the best way to ensure performance,” the document states.

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Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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