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Major research grant awarded to assess effectiveness of primary health care

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A Victoria University of Wellington-led team of researchers has received a $4.78 million Health Research Council grant to assess the effectiveness of New Zealand’s primary health care system.

The grant, which is over five years, is for a programme of research to be led by Professor Jacqueline Cumming, Director of the Health Services Research Centre in Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Health.The programme, Enhancing primary health care services to improve health in Aotearoa/New Zealand, will look at the current models of delivering health care via primary health care service providers such as general practices, nursing clinics and pharmacies, and how this model might be improved. A major part of the research will focus on the views of those using or needing to access care.The programme is in collaboration with the School of Health at Victoria University of Wellington, the Health Systems Group at the University of Auckland, the Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice at the University of Otago (Wellington), Pacific Perspectives Ltd, Whakauae Research Services, Counties Manukau District Health Board and international collaborators at the Health Services Management Centre in the University of Birmingham and the Department of Health Services Research and Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom.Professor Cumming says that since 2001 New Zealand health policy has focused on improving access to and increasing the use of primary health care services, in an effort to keep people well, but also to reduce pressure on hospitals.“The philosophy is that general practitioners, primary health care nurses, pharmacists and other local providers are best placed to treat many of the problems facing their patients, and that this early intervention will ultimately improve health outcomes and reduce health system costs overall—or at least free up funding to be used on expanding health services. However, there has been almost no research about the extent of the changes occurring, and how effective this policy shift towards primary health care has been.”The research programme is made up of five smaller projects, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the primary health care system.The first project will focus on tracking data on visits to primary health care providers across the country—how many patients are visiting, how many times they are visiting—and identifying the relationship between good access to primary health care and hospitalisations.The second and third projects will look at primary health care policy and implementation at national, district and local levels, as well as the new models of care being developed around the country. It will involve interviews with leaders in District Health Boards and Primary HealthOrganisations around the country, supplemented by a series of case studies about how services are delivered on the ground and what sort of barriers are preventing further improvements.The fourth project considers how pharmacy services are developing and how they might be linked more effectively into the broader primary health care network. This extends an existing project exploring developments in community pharmacies.The final project builds on research that is already under way focused on Pasifika experiences of the primary health care system. It will look at Māori access to and experience of the system, and how the system might integrate more effectively with social services.The research will begin in October.

‘Improving health and wellbeing in our communities’ is an area of academic focus at Victoria University of Wellington.