28 Oct 2008

Labour postpones plans to further cut doctors' fees

11:54 am on 28 October 2008

Uncertain economic times have forced Labour to postpone plans to make doctors' visits cheaper for children and those aged over 65.

Its health policy, released by party leader Helen Clark on Monday 27 October, targets disease and disability caused by obesity, tobacco, alcohol and preventable cancers.

The policy outlines Labour's vision for an affordable and accessible health system if it stays in government, but there is no new spending to go with it.

Funding would come from $750 million for health identified in this year's Budget.

Under the Labour-led government a visit to the GP for people under 17 or over 65 has become cheaper but health spokesperson David Cunliffe says plans to go further have been postponed.

"Events of the international economic nature over the last few weeks have meant we have had to cut back on some of those plans."

He says the cost would have been substantial.

"It is our hope that we will still be able to do it as soon as economic conditions permit but what I think New Zealanders are looking to this government first and foremost for at the moment is economic leadership at a time of great instability. We're not prepared to compromise that by over-promising on social spending at this time."

New measure

One new measure is free annual health checks for intellectually disabled people with high support needs.

Miss Clark says Labour is committed to screening and vaccination programmes such as bowel and breast cancer screening and the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.

She says Labour wants to link primary health organisations with district health boards through plans which would identify barriers to accessing health services and gaps in care.

Labour would also prioritise shorter waiting times for cardiac, cancer and orthopaedic treatment as well as boosting medical school student numbers by 100 by 2011.

The policy was released at a Tongan community health event in East Auckland, where hundreds of people took part in aerobics.