The Labour Party wants every primary and intermediate student to have mental health support and will inject hundreds of millions of dollars into reducing waiting lists and boosting Pharmac’s wallet.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and health spokesman Chris Hipkins released the party’s health policy in Auckland this morning.
The expansion of mental health support would be based on the Mana Ake programme in Canterbury, which has helped people deal with the earthquakes and terror attack.
Hipkins said support for young people in school prevented mental health issues later in life.
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“Our plan will expand the workforce of social workers, counsellors, teachers, youth workers and psychologists who will go into schools to help, support and build resilience for our school children.
“Analysis by Impact Lab on the effects of Mana Ake in Canterbury shows for every dollar invested in the programme $13 in value is returned to New Zealand – in improved mental health, educational achievement and physical health, and fewer addiction and mental health incidents.”
The cost for the roll out over the next five years is $151m.
Labour’s health policy also includes:
• $52m over four years to expand the nurses-in-schools programme to all secondary schools; it is currently only in decile 1 to 5 schools.
• $20m over four years for five more nurse family partnerships – helping parents with mental health or additional needs during pregnancy and following the birth or a stillbirth
• $6.4m over four years for 12 more maternal mental health respite beds
• $200m over four years in additional funding to reduce waiting lists
• $200m over four years in additional funding for Pharmac
• $176m over four years for dental care for people on low incomes by increasing emergency grants for oral care from $300 to $1000
• $37.5m over four years for 20 additional mobile dental clinics to make free dental care for under 18s more accessible
• $28m over four years to double the number of cochlear implant procedures from 80 to 160 per year
• $3m for a portable paediatric retinal camera in every DHB to tackle preventable blindness
• $20m for Ola Manuia: the Pacific Health and Wellbeing Action Plan 2020-2025, which would boost the number of Pacific healthcare workers
All up Labour’s health policies have a $1 billion price tag over four years, which includes $12.5m in capital expenditure.
Labour is committing to reform of the health system based on the Heather Simpson review, including reducing the number of DHBs in the next five years and establishing a Māori Health Authority to push for more equitable health outcomes.
Labour would also establish an Aged Care Commissioner as a watchdog over the sector, and a Public Health Agency, which experts have been calling for following how the Covid-19 response exposed our underfunded public health units.
Hipkins said almost all of the Covid-19 backlog of deferred treatment had been cleared with a previous $283m cash injection for hospitals.
He said the additional $200m would help hundreds of women who suffer from endometriosis and reduce pressure on surgery waiting lists.
The emergency grant for dental work hadn’t increased in over 20 years, Hipkins said, and boosting it up to $1000 would “go a lot further to covering the actual cost”.
“We know that Māori children access dental services at lower rates than Pākehā children, leading to worse dental outcomes. Mobile dental clinics with full services that visit schools is one way to ensure all children access dental care equitably.”
Targeted assistance for dental care was one of the recommendations in the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
Yesterday the National Party released its mental health strategy, including a “Zero Suicide” strategy which would include 100,000 free counselling sessions for the immediate impacts of Covid-19.
It also would require schools to deliver a skills based mental health and resilience training programme from years 1 to 13.
National has also pledged $5m a year to test more women for gynaecological cancer, $3000 entitlement for expectant mothers for services for their child’s first 1000 days, and $30m a year for childhood oral health, including paediatric and school dental services.
Addressing the policy
Ardern addressed media after the release of the policy in Auckland today.
She said putting flouride into the water supply was a decision for the Health Ministry.
She said there was more to do for dental care but Labour was starting with those on low incomes through emergency grants, and rolling out mobile dental clinics to improve access.
She said rolling out mental health support for all primary and intermediate schools would take five years because the workforce needed to be built up. Where that support would roll out first was still to be decided.
Hipkins said the international evidence around a sugar tax was ambiguous and Labour would not implement a sugar tax.
He rejected the idea that the food industry was too powerful, saying he listened to a variety of advice.
Asked about Labour would do to tackle obesity, Ardern said people needed to be informed so they could make informed decisions while pushing programmes such as health food in schools.
She said almost every woman would know someone suffering from endometriosis, which leads to “a huge amount of suffering”.
There would be women not on the waiting list because they haven’t identified it, and she said there needed to be more research so that women didn’t have to live in pain.