New Zealand's health system is in expected to be in deficit this year.

Are 500,000 people waiting for hospital care in New Zealand?

AAP FactCheck November 23, 2020

The Statement

A Facebook post claims 500,000 New Zealanders are waiting for hospital treatment at the same time as no new facilities are being built and the health budget is $400 million in deficit.

The post features a meme with the headline: “JACINDA ARDERN BECOMES MORE DEADLY THAN COVID19!”

Under the headline and a series of images, it says: “In a staggering report, 500,000 Kiwis are now waiting for hospital treatment as Jacinda Ardern continues to destroy the health system under the weight of mass immigration. While our population hits 5.1 million, no new hospitals are being built and the health budget is $400 million in deficit!”

At the time of publication, the October 12 post had been shared more than 140 times, attracting more than 50 reactions and 15,00 views.

It was posted by the NZ Observer Facebook account, which states in its “about” section: “The NZ Observer is part of the Oxford media group in Wellington. We comment on issues we find topical. We offer a very informal opinion and look forward to comments from readers.”

AAP FactCheck was unable to identify any “Oxford media group” based in Wellington. The Facebook page, created in July 2019, posts frequent memes critical of the Labour government and opposing immigration.

Facebook post
 A Facebook post claims 500,000 New Zealanders are waiting for hospital treatment. 

The Analysis

The Facebook post does not include any sources for the claim that “a staggering report” found 500,000 New Zealanders were waiting for hospital treatment.

However, a report from November 2019 titled Hospitals on the Edge and commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) estimated there were “potentially 430,000 children and adults with an unmet need for hospital care” (page 12).

These figures were based on a 2017 pilot study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, which investigated methods for a possible future national survey to measure unmet healthcare need in NZ.

The study included interviews with 1277 people in Auckland and Christchurch between November 2015 and February 2016. They were asked if they had not received secondary health care that had been recommended by a doctor or other health professional in the previous five years (page 26).

It found 9.3 per cent reported an unmet healthcare need in that period. Of that nine per cent, 63 per cent required a consultation and 39 per cent required a procedure (page 29).

Of those who needed but had not received secondary care, the most common reason given by respondents was because the procedure was “not available at public hospital/below public hospital threshold” (44.5 per cent) or was unaffordable (26.9 per cent). Another 9.2 per cent of respondents said they were on a waiting list (page 30).

The survey results were not weighted to reflect the population: the average age of respondents was 54.4 (page 28), well above the median age of 36.2 for men and 38.5 for women, nor did it include children (page 25).

The ASMA report applied the nine per cent figure to the entire population in 2019 to arrive at the figure of 430,000 children and adults with an unmet need for hospital care (page 12/13).

As the original survey was conducted in 2015/16, it gauged unmet needs under the previous National-led government and does not provide information on whether demand had increased or decreased under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led administration.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told AAP FactCheck its records showed there were 49,725 people waiting for hospital treatment as of September 30, 2020.

The Facebook post also claims no new hospitals were being built in New Zealand, however work has started on clearing the site for a new hospital in Dunedin which is due to be completed by 2028. It will be the largest hospital ever built in the country.

A new hospital also opened in Christchurch in November, a facility double the size of the previous location. A new hospital opened in Greymouth in July.

Meanwhile, budget deficits among New Zealand’s district health boards (DHBs) have been reported widely.

The Ministry of Health said the projected deficit for DHBs in the 2020/21 financial year is $397 million.

The Ministry’s website shows the unaudited deficit for all DHBs for the year to June 30, 2020 was $497 million, but the figure rises to $874 million when costs associated with COVID-19 and back-paying holiday pay are accounted for.

The Verdict

There is no evidence that “500,000 Kiwis” are waiting for hospital treatment, as claimed in the post. The official waiting list for hospital treatment was 49,725 at the end of September, according to the Ministry of Health.

One report estimated 430,000 New Zealanders had an unmet need for healthcare, however this figure was based on extrapolating data from a limited 2015/16 study. NZ is also continuing to build new hospitals, in contrast to the incorrect claim in the post.

However, the post is accurate in stating that the hospital system is in deficit. District health boards are projected to have a combined deficit of $397 million in the 2020/21 financial year.

Partly False – Content that has some factual inaccuracies.

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