Labour has revealed its health policy for the election, with mental health services for children and $200 million to cut surgery waitlists among the key planks

The Labour Party has pledged to roll out mental health services to every primary and intermediate school child within five years, saying the initiative will provide skills to help Kiwi kids for the rest of their life.

The announcement is part of Labour’s health policy, unveiled by the party on Tuesday morning.

It has also promised an extra $200 million in funding for national drug purchaser PHARMAC, as well as $200m towards reducing the waiting lists for planned care.

Revealing the party’s plans, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government had already invested billions into the health system “after nine years of neglect under National”, but it was aware there was still more work to be done.

Hipkins said Labour would provide mental health and wellbeing support services to all primary- and intermediate-aged school children in New Zealand over the next five years, following the success of the Mana Ake programme in Canterbury which had provided such support to children still dealing with the impact of the region’s earthquakes.

For every dollar invested in Mana Ake, there had been $13 in value returned through improved mental health, educational achievement and physical health, and fewer addiction and mental health incidents.

“We know that providing support early to young people works and can help prevent mental health issues manifesting later in life,” Hipkins said.

“Our plan will expand the workforce of social workers, counsellors, teachers, youth workers and psychologists who will go into schools to help, support and build resilience for our school children, equipping them with skills which will help them for the rest of their lives.

“As a responsible political party we also know properly funding public services such as health is an investment not a cost.”

Labour would put an extra $200m towards planned care, following an initial $282m allocation in this year’s Budget to catch up on procedures disrupted by Covid-19 and reduce waiting list backlogs.

Hipkins said the party would also provide $200m towards PHARMAC’s medicines budget, with the hope that the money would allow the agency – which makes decisions at arm’s length from the government – to fund new cancer treatments and other medicines.

On dental care – a sore topic for Labour, which has faced pressure from former prime minister Helen Clark and many others to fully fund access for all Kiwis – the party has pledged $176m towards increasing the special needs grant for emergency work, and an additional $37.5m towards 20 more mobile dental clinics for areas with limited services.

 “The rate of the Special Needs Grant for dental care hasn’t moved in over two decades and is inadequate to cover most dental procedures. Increasing support for dental care was a recommendation in the [Welfare Expert Advisory Group] report and this policy will make a real difference to many on a benefit, Hipkins said.

Labour would also carry out the reforms recommended by the Health and Disability System review, including the establishment of Māori Health Authority, a reduction in the number of district health boards, and a separate promise to create the role of Aged Care Commissioner.

The party said its health commitments would cost just over $1 billion over four years, with Hipkins accusing National of “effectively proposing service cuts to healthcare” through its tight fiscal plan.

“We know the next few years will be an economic challenge as we continue to fight our way out of Covid-19, but as a responsible political party we also know properly funding public services such as health is an investment not a cost.”

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

Leave a comment