Free visits to the doctor for children aged under six will be extended to after-hours under Government plans released today.
Health Minister Tony Ryall says district health boards will work with local GP networks and after-hours clinics to extend free medical care for under-six year olds to after-hours at an estimated cost of around $7 million a year.
“The Government is very focused on improving public services for families. All children deserve the best possible start in life, and parents shouldn't be put off taking their young children to the doctor because of costs they can't afford” said Mr Ryall.
Mr Ryall said the programme will be funded by efficiencies elsewhere in the health service. "This is another example of what can be achieved when you improve efficiency and encourage better performance from the big investment made in Health."
DHBs report that after-hours fees for under-sixes can vary from $0 to nearly $100 per consultation in an extreme case, with an estimated average fee of about $17.
"This Government is committed to giving young children the best possible access to health care," said Mr Ryall, "and that’s one of the reasons why we've increased funding for primary care by $100 million a year."
“Most children under six in greater Auckland now get free after-hours doctors' visits. This is because of a new city-wide after-hours network established by the Auckland DHBs and local GPs in September.
“Free visits after-hours will also help slow the numbers of young children presenting to our busy hospital emergency departments with illnesses their GP clinic could have treated.
“Just as with the daytime free under-sixes scheme, there may be some clinics who will not be willing to help young children in this way. DHBs will ensure there are alternatives available within a reasonable distance.
"Currently 87 per cent of all children aged under six – including 95 per cent of low-income household children –receive free doctors' visits during the daytime because their GPs have opted into the Zero Fees for Under Sixes scheme. In 2008 only 70% of children qualified for free visits."
DHBs will negotiate with local GP networks and after-hours clinics on a district by district basis aiming for a 1 July 2012 rollout.
Other child health improvements include improved immunisation rates, better help for mothers and babies in hospitals, restoring Plunketline, more Plunket visits for first time Mums, and a strong move against rheumatic fever.
"If we make changes like these for children's health care all New Zealand will be better off for it."