'Pressure' on health system on eve of major overhaul - Little

Source: 1News

Health Minister Andrew Little has responded to criticism about the stretched healthcare sector on the eve of the rollout of New Zealand's biggest health reforms in 20 years - saying there's "pressure" on the system.

Hospitals and other frontline services are groaning under the pressure inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, significant staff shortages and a surge of winter illnesses.

The Royal College of GPs on Tuesday said they believe a number of "frontline issues" need to be urgently addressed to ensure the reforms meet expectations.

Medical Director Dr Bryan Betty says an ongoing shortage of GPs, the basic funding formula for general practice and better health delivery to high needs areas are three areas in need of immediate attention.

"We’re seeing a lot of structural change," he said. "What we’re not seeing clearly is the vision for 10 years’ time."

Appearing on Breakfast on Thursday, Little was asked if he accepts the health sector is in crisis. He said the healthcare system is under "pressure".

"We have high levels of Covid, we have high levels of influenza-like illnesses, our hospitals have had extraordinary levels of absences as staff themselves seek to keep themselves safe from flus and what have you and that has put pressure on the system."

READ MORE: High hopes ahead of NZ's biggest health shake-up in 20 years

However he said New Zealand hasn't reached the point where hospitals can't take anymore patients.

"But that doesn't mean to say the front line health workers aren't under pressure, they are and I acknowledge that," he said.

Little said hospitals are deferring or postponing non-urgent planned care for some patients to cope with the number of people turning up at hospital.

Earlier this week Dunedin Hospital said it's at capacity and has high levels of staff fatigue.

Nurses 'holding their breath' to make it through shifts - union

Little says this is due to a system that hasn't kept up with the size of the population but the Government has put "record" funding into improving that.

"We've got now a nearly $7 billion building programme in our hospital system, compare that to one billion over the previous nine years, so this is a system that has been a long time in the making."

"We're doing everything we can both to provide the funding but actually to provide the people to fill those gaps that we need to run our system to meet the need of today," Little said.

On Friday, two brand new health entities will be rolled out. The days of the country’s 20 district health boards will be over.

Reforms costing half a billion dollars will see the DHBs replaced by Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority. The new entities will be based in Wellington.

Little says this will make for a more streamlined health system with better decision making.

He also said initially staff and patients won't notice a significant shift, but over time it will make a big difference.

On June 8, National's Dr Shane Reti said the reform would not do anything for the 36,000 people waiting four months to see a specialist.

"They only see an ideological health reform in the middle of a pandemic, and at a time when New Zealanders are still dying from Covid every single day. The timing is terrible," he said.