BUDGET Day is fast approaching and the prebudget announcements are starting to flow.
Gone are the days when it was a closely-guarded secret before the evening announcement from Parliament.
Alongside a strong focus on the economy, you can be assured that this Budget will meet the needs of New Zealand families in key areas, including health.
In the 2016-17 financial year, the Government will invest an extra $39 million in Pharmac, and an extra $124 million during the next four years. In fact, Pharmac's budget in the next year will be a record $850 million, which means we have boosted its budget by $200 million since 2008.
This increase in funding will allow the government agency to provide more New Zealanders with access to new medicines, and it will give Pharmac additional options with respect to funding new medicines and therapies.
In 2014-15, around 3.5 million New Zealanders received a funded medicine - 100,000 more than the previous year - and I understand Pharmac is considering funding around 50 new drugs, vaccines and devices.
One of those drugs is Opdivo, which has featured in the media quite a bit lately and is used to treat advanced melanoma with New Zealand having the highest rate of melanoma in the world.
Pharmac intends consulting over its plan to fund the melanoma drug and, if it receives board approval, patients could be getting free Opdivo from July 1.
National is committed to delivering better, quicker and more convenient healthcare.
Last year more than 70,000 New Zealanders benefited from access to 41 new medicines.
Leading up to Budget Day on May 26, we look forward to making more announcements.
While it will be a strong Budget that has at its heart a focus on the economy, the economic and social sides of our agenda are closely linked; a strong economy means a strong health system.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to put your hand up for the upcoming school board of trustee elections or, if you're not keen yourself, to support others to have a go.
Nominations are open until May 20, and boards are best served when members represent a mix of skills, experience and age. They should also reflect their communities and the diversity within. You don't even have to be a parent or have children at the school.
Thank you to the people in our communities who have been on our school boards for the past three years, as well as the teachers who work with our children and young people every day.
The voting for the school board elections is by postal ballot and takes place between May 25 and June 3. If you want to find out more, go to www.trustee-election.co.nz