New Zealand mulls major reforms for health system

A passenger from New Zealand, center, poses with drag queens as they welcome her at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, Monday, April 19, 2021, as the much-anticipated travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand opens. (Photo: AP)

WELLINGTON, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Putting a greater emphasis on primary healthcare and ensuring fairer access for all New Zealanders are two of the main drivers of health sector reforms, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Wednesday.

"We are going to put the emphasis squarely on primary and community healthcare and will do away with duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy between regions, so that our health workers can do what they do best - keep people well," Little said in a statement.

The reforms will mean that for the first time, New Zealand will have a truly national health system, and the kind of treatment people get will no longer be determined by where they live, he said.

The reforms will see all 20 district health boards replaced with a new national entity, Health New Zealand, which will be responsible for running hospitals and commissioning primary and community health services. It will have four regional divisions, the minister said.

Responsibility for public health issues will rest with a new Public Health Authority, and a new Maori Health Authority will monitor the state of Maori health and have the ability to commission services directly, he said.

The system will be overseen by a strengthened Ministry of Health, which will also advise the government on policy matters, he added.

The changes are in response to the Health and Disability System Review (HDSR), which found the public health system was under stress and that a greater emphasis on primary healthcare had the greatest potential to improve New Zealanders' health.

"The reforms herald a change in focus for the health system - we will treat people before they get sick so they don't need to go to hospital, thereby taking the pressure off hospitals," Little said.

"We all know how stretched our hospitals and specialist services are, and that's largely because people are not getting the healthcare they need, when they need it, to stop them becoming seriously unwell," he said.

The reforms will also ensure the system is able to cope with the effects of an aging population and respond more quickly to public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

The reforms will be phased in over three years to make sure existing services - including the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program - are not disrupted, according to the minister.