According to the Global Prosperity Index survey conducted by the Legatum Institute, New Zealand is the second-best governed country in the world, just behind Finland. Alongside reports that New Zealanders are among the happiest people in the world, it seems like a pretty good place to live, and their incredible healthcare system only adds to this idea, providing free or heavily subsidised medical care to the entire country. Though the intricacies are somewhat complex, the fundamentals of the system are simple: the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers the cost of all accidents in New Zealand, regardless of age, nationality or circumstance. Eligibility is irrelevant for the ACC, and they cover everything from car accidents to PTSD and therapy after traumatic events, including sexual abuse. The government funds the ACC through increased petrol and vehicle registration tax, alongside money from the general tax pool. The ACC is unique and invaluable to New Zealand, and it provides residents and tourists alike with a priceless service.
Huge changes in New Zealand’s healthcare system resulting in a semi-public, semi-private system.
There have been huge changes in New Zealand’s healthcare system over the past few decades, resulting in a semi-public, semi-private system. This means that GPs set their own fees (although the government can subsidise or even eliminate them altogether) but all hospital care is completely free as long as the patient has been referred by a GP. The eligibility checklist is immensely long and an enormous percentage of people are eligible for reduced healthcare fees. High Use Health Cards (HUHCs) are available to those who have to visit the doctor more often, as are Community Services Cards (CSCs) for those who earn less than a certain amount. These reduce the costs even further, cutting ‘after hours’ prices and prescriptions fees. Emergency services are also fully funded by the St John New Zealand charity, supported by private donations and public subsidy.
Last month, 30 000 nurses went on strike protesting low pay and understaffing
In theory, the healthcare system is excellent, however, it has been the focus of many headlines in recent weeks in New Zealand as the nurses have been on strike for the first time in 30 years. Last month, 30 000 nurses went on strike protesting low pay and understaffing, as well as the unsafe working conditions that this inevitably causes. Nurses make up around 60-70% of all frontline hospital staff and 90% of New Zealand nurses belong to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO). The huge impact that this had meant that all non-essential hospital care was stopped and countless surgeries and appointments were postponed. These strikes were extraordinarily disruptive and are set to continue throughout August, which will undoubtedly cause even more disturbance to the health service.
Others have sympathised with Ardern, explaining that her administration has had to pick up the pieces left behind by 9 years of a centre-right government
Jacinda Ardern’s fledgeling centre-left government has done all it can to minimise the disruption, however, it has been unsurprisingly difficult. Michael Woodhouse, a member of the National party oppositional to Ardern, has echoed the sentiment of many other politicians and union members in stating that Ardern’s administration had promised too much too soon for government workers in the run-up to the election. Nurses are not the only government workers who are set to strike, with elementary school teachers planning to walk out later this year over low pay. Teachers are asking for a 16% pay rise over 2 years to help recruit and maintain staff, however, the government has offered them pay increases of between 2.2% and 2.6% – hence the intended strike action. Others have sympathised with Ardern, explaining that her administration has had to pick up the pieces left behind by 9 years of a centre-right government, who allegedly neglected the government workers of New Zealand.
Ardern is currently out of office on parental leave, making her the second elected head of government to give birth in office following Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. She did not give up office until she gave birth on 21st June and is in the middle of the 6 weeks leave she will be taking, although she is in frequent contact with her cabinet and acting Prime Minister Winston Peters. Both Ardern and her government are progressive and liberal, being described by Vanity Fair as “the latest hip, cool world leader that America wishes it had.” Despite Ardern’s absence the government has continued to process effectively, with Winston Peters assuring nurses that the government is not ‘unsympathetic’, it just needs more time to find the money to increase wages.
The $550 million deal offered pay rises between 12.5% and 15%, however, some nurses are campaigning for pay rises as high as 20%.
The government offered the nurses a deal before the strikes. However, despite encouragement from the union, members voted against this deal. The $550 million deal offered pay rises between 12.5% and 15% along with 500 additional nurses to be introduced over 25 months, however, some nurses are campaigning for pay rises as high as 20%. This is the fourth offer to be rejected and some nurses have even made the decision to move to Australia in search of better pay, safer working conditions and more opportunities for professional development. Winston explained that there are other priorities for government spending such as the police force, infrastructure, transport and conservation. Controversially, Winston authorised recent military spending on four patrol planes that many of the striking nurses deemed unnecessary.
New Zealand’s healthcare system is at a breaking point. The idealistic, liberal system has worked up until now, but it seems that Ardern’s promises of “too much too soon” has left government workers too expectant and, as a result, bitterly disappointed and resentful.