Praise for progressive move by Hawke's Bay DHB

Congratulations to the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) applauds the visionary step taken by this district to direct funding to extending free general health visits for all children until they turn 18.

From July 2015 there have been free GP visits for under-13s throughout the country (previously only for under-6s), following a ‘zero fees’ Government initiative that was announced in the 2014 Budget. Under the new scheme most general practices in New Zealand have been able to offer free GP visits for children until their 13th birthday, as well as they are exempt from prescription charges. The zero fees scheme also ensured free after-hours and injury healthcare for under-13s.

CPAG supported this very welcome move by the Government, but also advocated that the target should be extended to provide funded GP visits for all children up until their 18th birthday. The zero fees scheme has meant more children see the GP when they need to, but parents with children over 13 are still burdened with the heavy costs of primary healthcare which may mean that in families where income is low, teens see the doctor less. The results of the recent New Zealand Health Survey showed that there has been an increase in the number of youths aged 15-24 who can’t afford to see their GP, from 12.3 percent to 16.2 percent.

Since the mid-2000s, CPAG has been promoting all-hours access to free healthcare for 0-17 year olds and in 2014, published the report The cost of GP visits for 6-17 year olds in New Zealand. Prior to the 2014 election the three opposition parties made a case for increasing funding for children’s healthcare and the Green party published Healthy teens, healthy futures arguing the benefits of free healthcare for children until they turn 18.

"Teenagers have a range of health challenges, both physical and mental. It is important to remove barriers to enable ease of access to primary care services in this vulnerable period of their lives," says Dr Nikki Turner, CPAG health spokesperson.

"A range of physical health issues such as respiratory and skin infections are common and challenging needs for young people. As well, there are sexual health issues, social issues and mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. Teenage suicide rates are very high in New Zealand and improving access to front-line services should form part of the focus on supporting the mental health needs of our young people."

The increased age for free healthcare is a progressive move by Hawke's Bay DHB and it should support an improvement in health for teenagers in the region.

CPAG hopes that this will encourage other parts of the country to consider the importance of access to healthcare for teenagers and inspire the Government to change the zero-fees policy universally to include all children up until their 18th birthday.