Whilst there are positive aspects to the recent Health Budget, there appears to be little investment in specific preventative health strategies. The focus again seems to be on funding ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ medicine. An example of this is the extra $40 million a year for the next four years promised to Pharmac. Many medicines would be obsolete if an investment was made in eliciting and addressing underlying causes of the chronic disease epidemic. As important as preventative medicine is investment in root cause medicine, which is designed to untangle all the possible nutritional and environmental causes of patients current health. This is the beauty of Integrative (Functional) Medicine and governments are short-sighted to not call on the expertise of healthcare workers that practice this style of medicine.
It is pleasing to see the Government is investing $40 million over four years into suicide prevention services, to give people at risk, intensive support. However, the underlying cause of why people at risk of suicide are experiencing mental health issues in the first place simply must be elicited. This again is by investigating and managing underlying nutritional and environmental issues.
As the frontline of healthcare it is essential that primary care receives its boost of $331 million promised in the Budget, however if 27% of GPs retire in the next 5 years (and 40% in 10 years) as is predicted then there will be less GPs to deliver this funding. The Government allocated $212 million to health workforce training in the recent Budget, but yet recently vetoed plans for a rural GP medical school which would have helped address the current and future lack of GPs.
Waiting lists will further suffer with the district health boards $300 million funding shortfall. There are currently around 280,000 patients being assessed as needing elective surgery but only 110,000 of those are on waiting lists. This is because the current ‘strategy’ is to not accept patents onto waiting lists unless the DHB’s can guarantee they will be seen within 6 months. Obviously, this ‘manipulation’ of waiting lists gives a false sense of the health of our nation. In addition, the waiting list strategy generally results in many joint replacement patients, for example, needing to be in enough pain to be almost reliant on a wheelchair before receiving an operation-an obvious false economy. The stress of having a joint not operated on leads to biomechanical stress on other joints and additionally physiological and psychological stress.
In terms of prevention the only heartening news is that there is $157 million allocated in the budget to assist firms who are developing high-value low-emissions products. Another positive in the area of environment and climate funding in this budget is $229 million being put towards ‘cleaning up waterways and improving wetlands and sustainable farming’. These measures will help address the toxic load of business and agricultural emissions which is an underestimated factor in the current chronic disease epidemic.
With increasing knowledge, interestingly driven by patients, of preventative and root cause (Integrative) medicine hopefully there will eventually also be a swing in future healthcare budgets. The cost savings to the economy would be immense.