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Key health concerns in New Zealand

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Key health concerns
Mental health issues (including suicide), cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, dementia, injuries and oral health are New Zealand’s main health concerns. A number of them have common underlying risk factors, including smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and abuse of alcohol and drugs, alongside occupational risks.

Smoking rates have come down over time, but remain stubbornly high for Māori. Poor diet and lack of physical activity remain key risk factors for the future.

In recent years, the New Zealand government has focused on a range of performance targets that it monitors. For the health-related “better public services” targets, New Zealand has seen increases in the rate of child immunisations, but not all DHBs (District Health Boards) and PHOs (Primary Health Organisations) are hitting the target of 95% of eight-month-old babies being fully immunised.

Other trends show that most DHBs are meeting targets for increasing the number of elective operations and for ensuring that 95% of people are seen in an emergency department within six hours. Performance against the target for smokers to be offered assistance is also good, though a bit variable across DHBs and PHOs .

The targets for raising healthy kids (where 95% of obese children identified in the Before School Check programme should be offered a clinical assessment and family-based interventions) and for cancer treatment (to begin within 62 days for 85% of people) require more work in many DHBs.

However, New Zealand’s population is growing quickly. Although the government continually notes it is putting in significant amounts of new funding, once inflation and population growth are taken into account, there has been very little growth in the health budget since 2011.

The strain on services is appearing in media reports, highlighting poor performance in mental health (including high rates of suicide, especially amongst young people and Māori).

Increasing concerns are being expressed over problems people have in getting to maternity, oral health, cancer and elective services. This is likely to be leading New Zealanders to purchase private health insurance in increasing numbers, which raises concerns over ensuring there is equity of access within the health service, as those on higher incomes are more likely to buy insurance.


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