The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; the College) strongly welcomes the focus on health in the 2022 Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) budget and believes that elements of the $11.1 billion investment could help reduce pressure on struggling hospital systems, and contribute towards the provision of a better, fairer health system for people across NZ.
However, ACEM notes absences of investment in areas of significant importance that contribute to emergency department (ED) overcrowding and crippling wait times, including mental health, access block and the healthcare workforce crisis. ACEM urges the government to work with clinicians to formulate urgent solutions to these worsening issues.
ACEM welcomes the investments in primary, dental and community care, including $488m for strengthening primary and community care, the $102m boost for community healthcare and $299m for Māori health services. Deficits in access to affordable and easily accessible healthcare can contribute to poorer health outcomes and emergency department pressures – particularly in rural areas. The College has long advocated for better primary care and believes the investments announced in the 2022 budget could support improvements in this space.
The College also welcomes the $1.3b allocated for public health capital investments. ACEM’s members report that much of the infrastructure in NZ is out-dated, and, at times, dangerous. However, the College warns that a concurrent focus on workforce is required to staff any updated, or existing hospital systems.
While the College welcomes the $39m for Hauora Māori workforce development, a stronger focus on the overall workforce is urgently needed. The healthcare workforce crisis is increasing, with a notable shortage in trained healthcare workers and senior emergency staff leaving the profession in large numbers, due to burnout and from stress linked to dangerous access block.
ACEM Aotearoa New Zealand Faculty Chair Dr Kate Allan said, “Healthcare workers are the most important part of the health system. Without specialised health workforce, the health system is just buildings and beds. Right now, healthcare workers are burnt out, stressed and exposed, and we need an urgent focus on retaining senior staff, who are leaving the profession entirely.”
ACEM acknowledges the $166 million investment in more ambulances and paramedics and the $90 million allocated for upgrading ageing air ambulance resources.
Dr Allan said, “An investment in ambulance services to attend to, and retrieve patients in need of acute care is welcome. However, we need to make sure we also have sufficient healthcare staff to care for patients once they get to the hospital. Access block, due to an inability to move patients out of the ED for further care, is the biggest and the most dangerous issue inherent in the New Zealand health system and we must urgently address it – or continue to see problems worsen.”
ACEM also welcomes the Emissions Reduction Plan and other investments in mitigating climate change. ACEM, and other medical Colleges across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, have declared climate change to be the biggest current threat to the future of global healthcare systems.