Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

PoliticsSeptember 26, 2023

Election 2023: The health policies in two minutes

Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

The health system has had a hell of a time in the past few years. So what do the different parties say they’ll do about it? has the thorough version, and we’ve got the whistle-stop tour.

See more from our policy in two minutes series here.

In 2022 the current Labour government passed the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act and reformed our health system. Instead of multiple district health boards we now have two national health entities, Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora | Māori Health Authority. For an explainer on the key changes, see this edition of The Bulletin). The past few years have, of course, been a hell of a time for health. Covid-19 exposed and pushed its tentacles into the pressures, frays and gaping holes of our health system. There have been nurses’ strikes, interminable wait times, overloaded EDs. So with the word “crisis” ringing through the halls of our hospitals, what are the different parties proposing to do about it? 

Health funding and services

At the highest level, right-leaning parties National, Act and NZ First would abolish the Māori Health Authority, while the left-leaning support Labour’s reforms and would retain the two-entity structure. 

Addressing achingly felt gaps in qualified health workforces is arguably one of the biggest challenges the system faces. To do this, National proposes to establish a third medical school as well as increasing the number of placements at Auckland and Otago med schools. They’re also proposing to offer six-month automatic work visas for nurses and midwives from overseas (and offer up to 1,000 relocation grants alongside). 

Labour, too, would increase places available at medical schools, aiming for an additional 355 doctors a year by 2027. Alongside this, they’re proposing to create 700 further nursing placements and increase recruitment of overseas senior medical staff. 

Te Pati Māori wants to establish a Māori health funding authority and the introduction of a Māori health card. 

Two of National’s splashier systemic policies are a proposal to direct $280 million towards new cancer treatments, and a proposal to limit free prescriptions to those with a Community Services Card or a SuperGold Card.

Dental care

The state of dental care (expensive) has been in the news this past year and Labour has several ideas to try to tackle the inherent cost of poor oral health. The big hitter is their proposal to make dental care free for everyone under 30. To support that they have policies to increase spots at dental schools by 50%, and encourage dental clinics to hire overseas workers

The Green Party would go a step further and would make dental care free for everyone as well as establish a New Zealand dental service, and bump up the number of professionals in the sector.

Mental health

According to the recent baseline wellbeing report, one in four New Zealanders (and nearly one in three women) have poor mental health. 

The Green Party has the most fulsome policies on mental health, with a raft of proposals including the provision of free mental health services for children and young people; training more mental health professionals; and strengthening the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission so that it can more effectively perform its functions.

National would appoint a minister for mental health and create a fund to support community mental health organisations. They’d also target the construction sector to improve access to mental health services, and they’d boost funding for victim support services.

Act would set up a national mental health and addiction agency while NZ First would fund a charity to provide free counselling to young people

Te Pati Māori proposes the establishment of a kaupapa Māori mental health service.

Women’s health, children and pregnancy

The current Labour government introduced the women’s health strategy under the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act, which mentions women’s mental health as part of a multi-pronged approach to women’s health more generally, as laid out in their women’s manifesto

Key policies from Labour include making cervical screening free for those aged 25-69.

National wants to extend free breast cancer screening for those up to 74 years. To address the workforce shortage, they would introduce a student loan repayment and bonding scheme for midwives and nurses committed to working in Aotearoa for five years post graduation. 

Because Māori present with cancer symptoms on average 10 years earlier than Pākehā, Te Pati Māori wants to make all Māori eligible for cancer screening 10 years earlier. They’d also reform Oranga Tamariki and establish an independent Mokopuna Māori Authority.

The Green Party presents adjacent policies relating to midwifery and pregnancy care, with a proposal to better fund midwives and fund and support kaupapa Māori initiatives by Māori for Māori aimed at reducing sudden unexpected infant death

Photo: Kemal Yildirim/Getty Images

Drugs and alcohol

Vaping is high on Labour’s list with the promise of limiting the number of vape stores to 600; increasing penalties for supplying vapes to under 18s; keeping up with anti-vape messaging; and exploring how to make vaping less visible to the youth

The Green Party would ban disposable vapes and are keen to regulate the industry (they’d also ban most alcohol ads and all sponsorships). Drug reform, including legalising cannabis for personal use, and an increase in rehabilitation and overdose prevention services, are core to the Greens’ health policies.

Covid-19 response

The long and tiring tail of Covid-19 can be seen across parties with either promises to direct resources into research to learn from the pandemic and prepare for the future; or with proposals to interrogate Labour’s pandemic performance.

NZ First is looking to compensate those who lost jobs due to vaccination requirements; would hold an inquiry into the Covid-19 response; and would oppose mandated vaccinations

Labour, on the other hand, would set up three new research centres to focus on tech, climate change and pandemics. 

The Green Party is looking to create ventilation standards for homes in an effort to reduce airborne illnesses, and establish healthy air standards for building ventilation. They’d also legislate for the right to a healthy environment

National would provide bonus incentives to GPs who boost immunisation rates for at-risk groups.

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