How to modify or reduce the rapidly rising demand for healthcare will be among the key topics at a high-powered Think Tank aimed at resolving one of New Zealand’s most pressing economic problems.
More than 50 experts in their respective fields will gather in Auckland on Friday to debate potential strategies to avoid a future healthcare funding blowout. As well as academics and economists, the public, private and provider sectors will all be represented. Political leaders in attendance will include Health Minister Tony Ryall, Labour health spokesperson Annette King, Act party leader Jamie Whyte and NZ First MP and health spokesperson Barbara Stewart.
Treasury’s 2013 “Affording Our Future” fiscal statement highlighted the future cost of healthcare as one of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand’s economy. Due to rising demand for services, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) estimates that health will increase from its current 21% to 32% of all Government spending by 2050 – a 153% increase.
The invitation-only Think Tank is hosted by Southern Cross Healthcare Group in conjunction with Massey University. Keynote speaker will be London-based Sir Malcolm Grant. Oamaru-born and educated, he is now the Chair of NHS, England - an organisation that looks after the health of 53 million people and has an annual budget of NZ$200 billion.
Southern Cross Healthcare Group CEO Dr Ian McPherson said the willingness of so many thought leaders to come together showed the urgency of the issue.
“The crunch in healthcare funding is not some far-off problem. The NZIER estimates that we have around eight years to make a change to historic spending patterns before health costs start to impact the Government’s ability to keep the country within budget.”
Prior to the Think Tank, attendees were interviewed in order to distil the issues and proposed solutions. Professor Paul McDonald, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Massey University’s College of Health said those interviewed overwhelmingly felt reducing demand for healthcare was the most important strategy to avoiding a funding crisis.
Said Dr McPherson, “Some of what will be discussed may challenge New Zealanders traditional thinking. The Government simply can't keep on funding the level of spending we’ve grown used to. This Think Tank is predominantly an opportunity for frank discussions on possible solutions. “Respondents expressed the need for a shift in focus towards prevention and public education. Other solutions included greater integration of primary care, technology investment and a greater focus on patient outcomes. One of the other suggestions, that of user charges on some or all services, will undoubtedly be another hotly debated topic.”