Primary health care

Primary health care relates to the professional health care provided in the community, usually from a general practitioner (GP), practice nurse, pharmacist or other health professional working within a general practice.

Primary health care covers a broad range of health services, including diagnosis and treatment, health education, counselling, disease prevention and screening.

A strong primary health care system is central to improving the health of all New Zealanders and reducing health inequalities between different groups. The launch of the Primary Health Care Strategy in 2001, followed by the establishment of primary health organisations (PHOs), set the direction and vision for primary health care services in New Zealand.

In 2009 the Government released its Better Sooner More Convenient approach to integrated health care across primary and secondary health providers with the patient rather than the institution as the centre of service delivery. District health boards (DHBs), PHOs and general practices now work together in alliances to meet the health needs of people within their district. The aim is to promote a more seamless patient journey across community, primary, and hospital sectors, greater use of primary and community care, and care being provided closer to the patient’s home.

In 2016 the Ministry updated the New Zealand Health Strategy which recognises the need for change and the challenges faced by the health system. Central to the strategy is the idea of ‘All New Zealanders living well, staying well and getting well’. This highlights the need for:

  • a shift from treatment to prevention, improving people’s lives and supporting greater financial sustainability
  • overcoming the inequities in the health system so that it works for every New Zealander
  • a deep understanding of what it’s like to use the health system – so that services are customer-friendly and barriers to equity can be removed
  • the Ministry, health providers, other Government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and communities working better together, because lots of factors affect a person’s health and wellbeing.

The health strategy has five strategic themes which summarise the overall thinking. They are:

  • People-powered – providing services in different ways that reflect the varying needs of our diverse communities and, providing information that helps people take control of their health and wellbeing
  • Closer to home – making it easier for people to access health services and, working with local communities to provide tailored support on the ground
  • Value and high performance – making better use of data to understand all the factors that affect health outcomes and, putting resources in the places they will make the most difference
  • One team – Government agencies, health care providers, NGOs, experts, analysts and communities working together; designing and delivering services and support in a coordinated way
  • Smart system – using technology to improve services and, make it easier to share information across the health system.

The Care Closer to Home booklet looks at how health professionals in our communities are working with one another and with hospital-based clinicians, to provide more services in community settings which, for most New Zealanders, translates to ‘care closer to home’.

Clinical guidelines

Clinical guidelines provide information and guidelines to all clinicians. Many of the guidelines relate to primary health care. Find our guidelines in the Publications section.

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