Health funding system ‘not working’

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Queenstown urgently needs a better formula for funding healthcare due to its “rapidly changing population”.

That’s the view of district councillor and health advocate John MacDonald.

Health Minister David Clark said he intends for a review of the population-based formula used to allocate funding for district health boards to take place before this term of government is over.

But MacDonald wants it brought forward to help tackle the area’s health-funding deficit as soon as possible.

“I would absolutely like to see the review brought forward,” MacDonald says.

“It is based on base population figures and things are growing really quickly here.

“The visitor numbers and migrant workers don’t get counted in the base population.”

Funding received by the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) is used to help run two large hospitals in the region, as well as smaller rural hospitals, which some critics say are being left behind.

“I don’t believe that system works for us really well.

“There needs to be some mechanism for rapidly changing populations to be taken into account.”

MacDonald says Queenstown’s actual population is “always growing faster” than projections show.

“It puts pressure on everything and there seems to be a reluctance to acknowledge what is happening.”

It’s also teeming with tourists.

“Something like half the people who attend A and E in the area are tourists.”

A general report on the sector is set to be published in early 2020.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker says rural healthcare needs are not being considered enough, while plans such as the Dunedin Hospital rebuild steam ahead.

“My concern is the focus on the physical rebuild of Dunedin Hospital and no representation on the Dunedin rebuild advisory panel from Southland or rural Otago,” Walker says.

“We need to carefully consider the region’s health requirements and needs before planning the design of the hospital.”

Ministry of Health official Sam Kunowski says it’s the DHB’s “responsibility to work with the services in their districts to fund and provide the health services their populations require”.

He says the ministry “also has mechanisms to compensate DHBs, including Southern DHB, who service rural communities, overseas eligible visitors and refugees”.

SDHB boss Chris Fleming says the board supports a review of the current funding formula.

However, he claims there is “not a direct relationship between pure population growth and demand on the health system”.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz