Primary and community healthcare

Primary and community health care is the entry point to the health system for most New Zealanders.

It plays a key role in delivering timely access to quality healthcare because it protects, promotes and improves people’s health.

The primary and community health care sector has been under pressure. New Zealand has a growing and ageing population and people’s health needs are becoming more complex. Primary and community health care also faces workforce shortages, which are particularly significant in rural and provincial areas.

This means New Zealanders cannot always get the health care they need to stay well in their communities.

Communities and the health sector have shown widespread support for making changes to improve primary and community health care. This was highlighted through engagement for the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Strategies in 2023, which showed how important primary and community health care is for New Zealanders.

Working with Health New Zealand and other agencies, the Ministry of Health is leading a policy work programme to look at what is needed to achieve comprehensive and accessible care that will better prevent ill health and support the wellbeing of people in New Zealand.  

Challenges faced by the sector  

Previous engagement with the primary and community care workforce has identified a range of challenges. These include:  

  • Workforce shortages are causing pressure across a broad range of health professions, with many health workers reporting they feel burnt out.    
  • Primary healthcare providers like GPs are doing more work, and it is more complex. Many practices have had to close their books to new patients. 
  • Current funding models do not work well for primary healthcare providers or their patients. 
  • Fragmented healthcare means there are not always good connections between different types of primary and community healthcare services.  
  • Primary and community healthcare providers do not always have the tools they need, including infrastructure and technology. 

Challenges faced by New Zealanders  

Most New Zealanders access the health system through local primary and community healthcare services. For many people, the current healthcare system is working effectively. However, some groups, including Māori, Pacific, women, disabled peoples, low socio-economic, rural populations, refugee and migrant, and rainbow communities, have faced more challenges in accessing primary and community healthcare.  

Some of the challenges people have faced include:  

  • Cost, including patient co-payments and service charges. 
  • Lack of availability of services, including difficulties getting appointments or being able to enrol with a GP. Some GPs have closed their services to new patients. 
  • Difficulty accessing services, including after-hours particularly for   rural communities. 
  • A focus on treatment of issues rather than prevention. 
  • Cultural safety – under-representation of Māori, Pacific, and disabled people in the workforce, and inconsistent cultural and disability of competency. 

Setting the direction for primary and community healthcare

In 2024, the Ministry will provide advice to the Government on the changes needed to achieve comprehensive and accessible care to better prevent ill health and support the wellbeing of people in New Zealand. This policy work will include advice on the future operating model and funding models for primary and community healthcare.   

We will be updating this webpage as we confirm next steps for the work programme.

Want to know more? Contact [email protected].  

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