Community Scoop

Community-based health care under threat

Press Release – Newtown Union Health Service

The Newtown Union Health Service (NUHS) is warning that unless funding levels for community health are retained and enhanced, health care for many will become an unaffordable luxury.17 November 2011

Community-based health care under threat

The Newtown Union Health Service (NUHS) is warning that unless funding levels for community health are retained and enhanced, health care for many will become an unaffordable luxury.

The current financial crisis disproportionately affects the people we care for. NUHS aims to provide high quality accessible affordable care to many of those whose needs often fall through the cracks. We look after many children being brought up in poverty. We look after many beneficiaries. We look after many people with significant enduring mental health problems. We look after many people living in low cost City Council and Housing New Zealand housing. We look after many people from a refugee background. We care for gang members, released prisoners, people with addiction problems, and victims of violence. In addition along with all other primary care services we are dealing with the growing incidence of obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions which tend to affect our communities to a greater degree than others.

Our costs have been increasing faster than our funding and our patients have no ability to absorb increased patient fees. Two other community primary care services have ceased operating in the last 2 years. The People’s Centre in central Wellington closed its primary care service altogether and NUHS took over providing the clinical care for the Pacific Health Service Wellington (PHSW) primary care clinic, after they were unable to meet the financial costs with no additional funding. NUHS is currently working to a $300,000 deficit budget, which is clearly not sustainable. Fortunately as a prudent business NUHS had established some reserves. This enabled NUHS to sustain the transition costs of merging the Pacific Health Service primary care clinic with NUHS so that that service could continue for the PHSW did not close. It also means that we have some time to work out how to balance the books.

The Minister of Health holds the view that primary care organisations should not hold reserves and that any money received should be spent completely on providing services. NUHS disagrees with this view. In the past when money has run out, staff have worked for nothing. Unlike the hospital if we run out of money the government will not tide us over.

“We are concerned that DHBs are being forced to make huge budget cuts, and in turn are cutting funding to community health care providers to try and make ends meet. For us CCDHB is labouring under a $40million deficit that the previous CEO Ken Whelan said could not be managed with out cutting services.

With the Minister’s encouragement CCDHB took the view that our reserves were too large and they have asked us to provide the same contracted services as we did last year for $300,000 less” says Newtown Union Health Service [Dr Ben Gray].

“We know that when people in our communities with complex healthcare needs can’t get the care they need they end up, even sicker, in emergency departments. And that’s not good value for the patient or the health dollar.”

Newtown Union Health Service prides itself on the excellent care it provides to communities in Wellington.

“Our doctors, nurses and kaimahi hauora work at Newtown Union Health Service because they have a strong desire to help everybody achieve the best health outcomes but it’s hard to stay positive when the threat of funding cuts is looming” [Dr Gray] says.

“Excellent community health care for every New Zealander is paramount. In these difficult times we need to ensure that good primary care is available to all but particularly the people in greatest need..”

“We recommend the Government, DHBs and other funders think carefully before cutting the frontline of health in New Zealand.”

Newtown Union Health Service Newtown Union Health Service is a not-for-profit, community-owned, primary health service with approximately 6700 registered patients. Our philosophy is to provide acceptable, affordable, accessible and appropriate health care. We work with a population of predominantly low-income families and individuals living in the South Wellington area, many of whom have high health needs. We work as a multi-disciplinary team comprising seven doctors, eight nurses, four midwives, a social worker, Maori community worker, and administration and reception staff. We have regular visits from allied clinicians such as a psychiatrist, a diabetes physician, dietician and podiatrist. We provide maternity care and after-hours care to our patients.


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