JONATHAN COLEMAN: A healthy start to life for all New Zealanders


Healthy pregnancy and a safe birth are the foundations for a good start to life.

This Government believes in supporting all women and families to have healthy babies who grow up to be healthy kids. That is why we have set new targets to help young New Zealanders get the best start to life, and to support kids to have a healthy childhood.

The first of our new health targets is focused on healthy mums and babies. By 2021, 90 per cent of pregnant women will be registered with a Lead Maternity Carer in the first trimester.

Early and continued engagement with a Lead Maternity Carer (usually a midwife) is associated with normal, healthy births and better pregnancies. They also connect mums and babies with other core health services, such as general practice, immunisation, Well Child Tamariki Ora checks, and oral health services, as well as other social services.

The second of our new health targets is focused on keeping kids healthy. By 2021, there will be a 25 per cent reduction in hospital admission rates for a selected group of avoidable conditions in children aged 0 - 12 years.

Avoidable hospitalisations include dental conditions, respiratory conditions, skin conditions, and head injuries. This is not about limiting access to hospital treatment when it’s needed. In fact, we may see more children identified with previously undiagnosed conditions, and hospitalisations may go up in the short term. But it’s about intervening early so we can help keep kids out of hospital.

This target will be supported by the free under 13 GP visits and prescriptions introduced by this Government.

I also want to mention the steps this Government is taking to dramatically reduce Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), which we announced this week.

We know that babies are at the greatest risk of SUDI in the first 10 months and that rates are higher for Maori babies. Our goal is to reduce the overall rate of SUDI by 86 per cent and 94 per cent for Maori by 2025, reducing the number of SUDI deaths from 44 to six per year.

We are investing an extra $2 million in the National SUDI Prevention Programme to help them target two of the biggest preventable risks for SUDI: tobacco smoke exposure during pregnancy and co-sleeping with the baby.

The programme will better utilise innovative approaches to reduce smoking, including smoking cessation incentive programmes which have proven effective in trials.

Although evidence shows it’s safest for a baby to sleep in a bassinette or cot, we know that in some families this doesn’t happen. That’s why we’re supporting these families to have their baby bed-sharing as safely as possible by providing safe sleep devices, commonly called “pepi pods” (also called wahakura or baby boxes) to families identified as needing them in their child’s first year.

We are always looking for ways to help all New Zealanders lead healthy lives. And continually improving our health services so they are easier to reach, easier to engage with, and safer for all New Zealanders is at the core of what we’re all trying to achieve.