Eyes were an obvious omission in this year’s health budget, which failed to mention the previous’ government’s promise to include one free eye-health check for SuperGold holders, or its dumbed-down version for age-related macular degeneration*, which appears to have now been scrapped.
In the government’s 2020 paper that first proposed free eye-checks, then health minister David Clark noted that, “Compared to people with good vision, people with low vision are less able to live independently, have poorer quality of life… and have more falls and fractures. In older people, falls are associated with significant mortality and morbidity and frequently lead to a decline in physical and/or psychological function… Falls consume significant resources in terms of hospital admissions, bed utilisation and use of other health and allied services.” However, in May 2021 health minister Andrew Little said that the free check-ups were of limited benefit and the $197 million set aside over four years could be spent better elsewhere.
As to general health announcements, there was little in this year’s budget that had not already been revealed. The reforms that will lead to the end of the country’s district health boards (DHBs) and the formation of a central Health NZ agency, together with a new Māori Health Authority, have been collectively allocated $729 million. Budget 2021 also provides DHBs with cost pressure funding of $2.7 billion over four years, an increase of around 4.37%; $399.2 million to support people with long-term physical, intellectual or sensory impairment; and $516.6 million to develop and run more effective health infrastructure, including a national health information platform, so patient records can finally be read by approved health professionals anywhere in the country.