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The Government has backed the Southern District Health Board’s plans for the new Dunedin Hospital to be a digital hospital.

The SDHB, with assistance from the Ministry of Health, has spent two years drafting a strategy to improve its IT services, and to have up-to-date technology ready to be used in the new hospital.

In yesterday’s Budget, the Government confirmed it would set aside a total of $161million, as a contingency over a four-year period, for the IT upgrade.

The SDHB, soon to be disestablished as part of the Government’s health reforms, received a $24.5million boost in funding for 2022-23.

Most of the money, $21.7million, would fund pay equity settlements, but money was also tagged to fund critical care and ward beds, and to boost the South’s share of the National Disability Support Services travel fund.

As a whole, the sector received a substantial boost in funding for the establishment of the new central organisations being created to run the health system, Health New Zealand and the Maori Health Authority.

The extra $11.1billion funding took the overall health budget to more than $24billion, although some of it will be required to bail out the majority of DHBs which are forecast to be in the red.

"District health boards have consistently run deficits, with funding unable to meet growing demand and address historic cost pressures," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

"Relying on the annual budget cycle for funding has made it difficult to plan for future investments and address long-term challenges in the health system."

Yesterday, Mr Robertson announced $3.1billion funding over two years for the transition to Health New Zealand.

"The transformation of our health system will take time, but these first investments will make significant progress towards a fully equitable, sustainable and quality health system for the future."

Funding for drug-buying agency Pharmac also had a substantial increase, of $191million over two years.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said that, among other things, the funding would allow the purchase of lung cancer treatments, postponed because of Covid-19, to proceed.

"This budget increase will mean many more treatments being progressed for funding over the coming 12 to 24 months," Ms Fitt said.

"We will be working closely with our colleagues across the health sector to plan for the implementation of new treatments."

The changes in health funding were not universally welcomed by all in the sector.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter said the Budget overlooked the difficulties faced by those working on the health front lines.

"The Government seems oblivious to the fact that it cannot have a robust and workable health system when there are chronic staffing issues that are worsening every day, but it seems the best it can do is $76million for workforce development over four years," he said.

"We’re not even sure what that means, but $19million a year is really just loose change."

Mr Goulter was also disappointed that no moves were announced to address the widening pay gap between nurses who work for DHBs and those in other sectors such as aged residential care.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners president Samantha Murton was disappointed the bulk of new funding went on infrastructure rather than addressing workforce shortages.

"As more GPs are nearing retirement age or thinking of leaving the profession early due to burnout, there will be no ability to provide more consultations and longer opening hours, let alone train the new generation of general practitioners who are coming through our training programme," Dr Murton said.




Great stuff, virtual doctors treating virtual patients. Can't wait till I'm a virtual person.



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