Community pharmacies, general practice and nursing clinics are some of the models of care being examined in a major $4.78m primary health research project.

The Health Research Council five-year grant is to a project team lead by Professor Jacqueline Cumming, director of Victoria University of Wellington’s Health Services Research Centre, is one of five long-term grants announced today.

The research project looks 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 focus will the views of those using or needing to access care.

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,” said Cumming.

“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 components.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 looking at the impact of good access to primary health care on 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 health organisations around the country, plus a series of case studies about how services are delivered on the ground and what sort of barriers are preventing further improvements.

Pharmacy services are the focus of the fourth project and looks at how pharmacies might be linked more effectively into the broader primary health care network. 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 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.

The research will begin in October.

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