A budget-stretched health system is leading to suffering by patients and hospital staff, and something has got to give, unions say.
The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have released their analysis of health expenditure in this year's Budget against estimates of what is needed.
They said this year's health budget falls short of what's needed by a $248 million.
ASMS deputy executive director Angela Belich says the government needs to spend more on public health to meet the level of need.
CTU economist Bill Rosenberg said the 2016 Budget falls short of what is needed to cover new services, increasing costs, and a growing and aging population.
He said district health boards are underfunded by more than $152 million and the Health Ministry itself is $5.5m short.
Angela Belich said the shortfall has been building for years, and is stretching the system, leaving staff having to work harder and more patients unable to get treatment.
"We've found going round, our members are working very long hours and some patients that we know could benefit from treatment are not getting it.
"But at some point - and I think we're approaching that now - the system has got to give. There's no more room to accommodate increasing need and increasing population pressure."
But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said recent health budgets are keeping pace with rising population and cost pressures.
He said while the government had to slow down the growth of public spending after it became unaffordable, the health budget had increased by an average of $500m a year.