Health plan: Government details 24 initiatives to ease pressure on system this winter

The Government has released a "comprehensive" new plan it believes will ease pressure on New Zealand's health system during winter.

There are several goals, including reducing pressures on primary care, preventing hospital admission in the first place and addressing workforce issues. 

Some of these initiatives are available nationally, while others are being planned for districts which are consistently facing challenges.

"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," said Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

"Coordinated at a national level, the health system is better prepared to respond locally, and connect its people to share knowledge and deliver services this winter.

"Resources will be shared across health facilities within a region, with providers working together. These initiatives being driven by Te Whatu Ora reinforce care at the right time, at the right place. They will deliver health services to people closer to where they live, ultimately alleviating additional pressure on our hospitals."

The Government has received criticism for long wait times at hospitals and emergency departments being overloaded.

One of the measures is allowing pharmacies to treat more minor ailments. This will start in mid-June in Upper Hutt before expanding to other districts, including Waitemata, Middlemore, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch.

The objective is to reduce pressure on primary and hospital services by increasing access to care in the community for minor ailments to priority populations, like children. It will apply to Maori, Pacific, under 14s, and their whanau as well as community service card holders.

"Being able to access consultations with a pharmacist and medicines for minor ailments from a pharmacist provides another option for care that may be faster or more convenient than visiting a GP or ED," the Government said.

To prevent hospital admissions, the Government will expand a scheme to provide care in homes through virtual monitoring and consultation as well as in-person visits. It said this can be more convenient for some people and also reduce the risk of infection that comes with staying in a hospital.

This is already happening in some districts but is going to be rolled out to Te Tai Tokerau, Auckland, Middlemore, Tauranga, Mid Central, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill.

The Government said it's trying to address workforce pressures through its international nurse recruitment initiatives as well as ensuring health staff have received their influenza vaccinations, reducing the chances of staff becoming sick and needing to be away from work.

There's also a focus on increasing immunisation rates among the public, which therefore reduces the likelihood of hospital admission for illnesses like COVID-19 and influenza.

"It's important people feel confident they can get the health care they need this winter and I'm fully supporting the plan to deliver that," Dr Verrall said.