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Doctors and families embrace free doctor visits for under-13s

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that significantly reducing the number of hospital admissions for preventable illness among children should be a national goal.

When the National Government announced it would expand its ‘Zero Fees’ scheme to all children aged under 13 in 2014, this was a major win for families of New Zealand.

There has been wonderful uptake by general practices nationally, with more than 99 per cent opting in to providing free daytime care. Families have responded by taking up these visits for their children.

Sadly, seven practices, of which six are located in Auckland, have not yet taken up the scheme.

Zero Fees is an ‘opt-in’ scheme, and practices which opt in receive additional subsidies from the Government, amounting to the cost of two doctor’s visits per child enrolled annually. 
The Ministry of Health website states: “The changes are designed to improve access to healthcare for primary and intermediate school children, ensuring they can get the care they need when they need it and avoid possible complications and visits to hospital A&E departments.”

 The effectiveness of this scheme could be gauged by a reduction in doctors visits on average per child, as indicated in the latest Ministry of Health (MoH) figures. This may be an indicator that general good health is prevailing through better access.

 “These results show that this policy change to remove the barrier of cost, aimed at improving the health of our children for children has been embraced by general practices and families," said Professor Innes Asher, CPAG heath spokesperson. 

"The collective action of medical practitioners who are dedicated to helping children is impressive and eases some of the pressure on low-income families.” 

According to Dr Nikki Turner, health spokesperson for CPAG, the benefit to low-income families in New Zealand is "enormous".

“By removing the financial barrier parents do not face the dilemma of when to take children to the doctor before the need becomes dire, and they end up in hospital,” says Dr Turner. 

CPAG would like to see the “zero-fees scheme” extended up to the age of 18. This is part of the strategy needed to achieve a target of halving admissions to hospital for preventable illness among children over the next five years. 

CPAG encourages all government ministries and healthcare providers to collectively work together towards this achieving this target.