‘Where’s the plan?’ Student nurses left disappointed by Budget 2023

May 18, 2023

Nursing students were left bitterly disappointed by Budget 2023, which contained scant specific new initiatives to support them, and grow the nursing workforce.

“It’s quite disappointing.”

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Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) national student unit (NSU) co-chair and third year bachelor of nursing student Rebecca Dunn said students needed direct financial support such as earn-as-you-learn schemes, scrapping study fees, and paying for placements.

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“But there’s clearly nothing in there about that.”

National students unit co-chair Rebecca Dunn said Budget 2023 contained no plan to support those training to be nurses.

The Labour Government’s “no frills” Budget 2023 contained $4.8 billion in new spending, but little of this was on frontline health services.

Most spending on health services in Budget 2023, including workforce development and pay increases, had already been announced in 2022, as part of a multi-year funding programme, NZNO president Anne Daniels said.

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“There was an opportunity in this Budget to commit additional funding beyond the $1.3 billion uplift announced in Budget 2022 that could have meaningfully addressed the workforce shortages and need for improved pay and conditions across the entire health system.”

Funding announced in Budget 2022 included $63 million for “an additional 500 new nurses to be employed”, and $76 million over four years “to develop the health workforce”,  Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a media release today.

But Daniels said 500 new nurses would “not resolve burnout and fatigue that chronic staffing shortages brings to the workplace for nurses”.

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said Budget 2023 didn’t provide anything to specifically address the urgent need for Māori and Pasifika nurses.

Kerri Nuku
NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said she wanted to see specific support in Budget 2023 to lift the number of Māori and Pacific nurses.

“We need an increased percentage of Māori and Pasifika nurses to ensure people receive health care that that is culturally sensitive and appropriate for them. Nurses need adequately resourced and staffed workplaces to deliver the safe, timely, accessible care that New Zealanders deserve.”

Dunn said she knew of students who had slept in their cars while on placements, and others who were working on training placements and then heading straight to paid night shifts, while others had no option but to drop out altogether, in order to support their family.

She said it was hard to fathom the apparent lack of action by the Government.

“Where’s the plan? Where’s the plan to support students, because we need more nurses, and they agree we need more nurses but they’re not doing anything to help us get more nurses.”

“It feels like they are just throwing darts at a dart board, with their eyes closed.”

Council of Trade Unions economist Craig Renney said Budget 2023 did include measures to improve the social determinants of health, such as scrapping of a $5 prescription fee, subsidising warmer home upgrades, free public transport for under-13s, and providing more free early childhood education.

“Helping to heat and insulate 100,000 homes will actually have a material benefit for the health system.

Council of Trade Unions economist Craig Renney.

“This is stuff that not only puts some money back into the pockets of some very low-income people, but it gets outcomes, and that’s the kind of smart investment we all want to see.”

Renney said that in the context of inflationary and political pressures, the Government had “pushed the envelope” for spending as far as it could.

While further spending was possible, it would have risked stronger accusations of “stoking inflation”, from political opponents, Renney said.

Responding to Budget 2023, National Party finance spokesperson Nicola Willis described it on Twitter as “Labour’s Blowout Budget” and said “Labour’s wasteful spending, added costs & business barriers are choking NZ”.

Willis told Stuff National would repeal the scrapping of the $5 prescription fee if elected to government.