Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) : I am very pleased to be taking part in this estimates debate on Vote Health, and I would like to congratulate the Minister of Health on his leadership in this portfolio. Vote Health was the biggest recipient of Budget 2011. It was one of the few areas to receive a modest funding increase, which will be paid for by making efficiencies in other Government departments. This continues the Government’s election pledge to continue the growth of funding to the public health system. Budget 2011 is delivering an extra $2.2 billion to public health services over the next 4 years, including an additional $585 million in initiatives in the coming year.
I would like to particularly focus on three areas: medicines, rheumatic fever, and maternity services. The Budget included $80 million for wider access to medicines, and it is expected that around 32,000 patients in the first year will benefit from this extra funding. Together with the extra $100 million for medicines in the last 2 years, this means that this Government has invested an additional $180 million in total.
Despite the serious economic environment, the Government has continued to invest new resources into health to meet our commitment to a strong and enduring public health service. This is in contrast to the approach taken by several Governments around the world that have slashed the funding of their public health services in response to the global financial crisis. In 2008 we made an election commitment to lift the pharmaceutical spending per head of population, and the extra $180 million will bring us up from $163 in 2008-09 to $174 per head of population in 2011-12. This means more patients are benefiting from community medicines and cancer treatments. In terms of the number of medicines funded, under this National Government we have seen the most intensive programme of medicine investment since Pharmac was created in 1993.
This Government has acted on rheumatic fever. In the 2011 Budget $12 million has been allocated towards this debilitating disease. M?ori and Pacific people, most of them children, living in cold, overcrowded homes are most likely to get rheumatic fever. They are 20 times and 37 times, respectively, more likely to be admitted to hospital for the first time for acute rheumatic fever than anyone else. It is a Third World disease and we need to eradicate it from our country. It has been a health priority since 2001, but nothing has ever happened except that more children contracted this disease. This $12 million investment in the Budget this year is aimed right at rheumatic fever and will support a massive campaign across high-prevalence communities, involving school-based sore throat clinics for over 22,000 children.
It has been a long time since I practised as a general practitioner, but the Minister of Health showed us in the Health Committee the throat swabs that will be used for these programmes. I had not appreciated that they are actually on-the-spot throat swabs that are taken of children with sore throats, and they show whether they have strep throat. If they have strep throat, they have an antibiotic and that is it. If they do not have strep throat, they do not need to have an antibiotic. I had not realised that technology had advanced in the time since I left general practice. I am delighted that we have this programme, which will make a real difference to children in those communities.
Rheumatic fever is a terrible disease. It can lead to heart problems. Basically, it is a crippling, chronic illness with a terrible outcome for children, who need to have monthly, painful injections of penicillin, and they have a terrible outlook. This is a fantastic programme. It is long awaited—it has been waiting since 2001—and this Government is doing something about it.
Budget 2011 has new initiatives for maternity services and to help new mothers and babies. The Budget provides an extra $33.2 million for maternity services over 4 years to improve safety and quality. A further amount of $21.3 million will boost Well Child services, with particular focus on first-time mothers. The additional funding is expected to deliver an extra 54,000 visits to about 18,000 mothers who need this additional support. For these mothers, this will mean, on average, three additional Well Child visits up to the first 2 months of a baby’s life. The extra $33 million announced for maternity services includes $18 million to improve the safety and quality of services for mothers and babies.