27 Oct 2011

National promises free after-hours care for under six-year-olds

6:39 pm on 27 October 2011

The National Party is pledging free after-hours visits to the doctor for under six-year-olds if it is re-elected.


At present, 87% of children under this age get free visits to the doctor because their GPs have signed up to the scheme.

Extending it to after-hours will cost about $7 million a year and National's health spokesperson Tony Ryall says that money will come from savings made in the health sector.

District Health Boards say that after-hours fees for the under-sixes average about $17, but vary from being free to costing nearly $100 per visit.

Mr Ryall says having after-hours visits free will also mean that fewer younger children will go to busy hospital emergency departments for illnesses that their GPs could have treated.

The minister says although some GP clinics will not be willing to provide free consultations after-hours, DHBs will make sure alternatives are available within a reasonable distance.

Labour supportive, but questions cuts

Labour's health spokesperson Grant Robertson supports the plan, but says Labour has a more comprehensive policy which will be released during the election campaign.

Mr Robertson questioned what kind of cuts were made in the sector to get the efficiencies Mr Ryall has spoken of.

"While Mr Ryall's addressing an issue that definitely needs to be addressed, there's questions left to be answered as to whether it's a comprehensive scheme and what else will be cut in order for this to happen."

Medical Association welcomes move

The Medical Association on Thursday welcomed support from both major political parties to extend free doctor visits for under six-year-olds to after-hours.

Association chair Paul Ockelford says it is vital that young children get early medical treatment before their illness becomes so severe they need to go to the emergency department.

Dr Ockelford says National and Labour seem to recognise the importance of children having a healthy start in life, so they do not have health problems in adulthood.

The election will be held on 26 November.