The Government has launched a winter health plan it says will tackle hospital demand by putting more emphasis on care at home and in the community,
The plan takes on lessons learned throughout the Covid-19 response, including increasing access to telehealth services, the ability for pharmacies to treat minor ailments and hospital services at peoples’ homes.
Newly-established public health agency Te Whatu Ora is leading the plan, which includes 24 initiatives to help reduce hospital demand.
Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said she was confident the plan would help people get the care they needed over winter.
It comes amid huge pressures on the health system driven by an aging and growing population with increasingly complicated health problems, exacerbated by the pandemic.
The problem is not unique to New Zealand, with similar pressures overseas including in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Verrall said a major part of the plan was to address congestion in the health system and in particular in emergency departments where people often ended up unnecessarily.
It would also help ensure professional services were better utilised.
“This winter, a reformed health system is allowing us to identify successful local programmes and scale them across the country, tailoring any health care approach to meet unique needs.”
Coordinated at a national level the health system would be better prepared to respond locally and connect people and services better, with enhanced real-time data sharing, she said.
“Resources will be shared across health facilities within a region, with providers working together.
“They will deliver health services to people closer to where they live, ultimately alleviating additional pressure on our hospitals.”
One example that would assist those in more rural areas was greatly expanding telehealth services and virtual consultations.
Pharmacies would also be funded to treat minor ailments and dispense free medications and access to community radiology services increased.
The plan also sought to increase vaccination for Covid-19 and winter illnesses such as flu but also childhood immunisation, which have dropped to record lows.
The initiatives in the plan were fully funded with $180 million from the Covid contingency fund and from Te Whatu Ora’s baseline funding.
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