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King Speech Launching Healthline

Healthline Launch

Monday, May 8, 2000

Access To Timely Care



I am pleased to be here today to launch the Healthline call centre. New and innovative health services, such as Healthline, will be at the heart of the sort of responsive health system my Government is developing.

I think it is highly appropriate that later this week, on Friday, we celebrate International Nurses Day. The same day happens to be Florence Nightingale's birthday. As I will be discussing in more detail later, nurses have an extremely important role to play in the Healthline service. The success the service achieves will be hugely dependent on the nursing contribution. I am sure that contribution will become recognised as yet another feather in the cap of New Zealand nurses.

The Healthline service has been set up to encourage people to gain access to appropriate and timely care from the most appropriate health provider.

It will also provide people with quick access to information and advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This service is going to be quick, easy to use, free and accessible at all hours. In addition, it also offers the opportunity to discuss health issues not related to the initial query.

Each phone contact provides the nurse receiving the call with an opportunity to provide advice on disease prevention. For example, it will give them a chance to provide parents with immunisation information.

Healthline will also provide people in the pilot rural areas with access to immediate health advice. Strengthening services for people living in rural areas is an important priority for this Government and the pilot sites for Healthline (Northland, the Gisborne/East Coast area, Canterbury and the West Coast of the South Island) all have large rural populations.

While international experience is not always relevant, it can often be a useful guide. In this case it is quite telling that there has been a rapid growth in the number of telephone advice and triage lines overseas.

In particular, there are similar lines in the United Kingdom with NHS Direct, in Australia with HealthDirect in West Australia, and other lines are currently being developed in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. There are also similar lines in parts of Europe and the United States.

While it is still too early to tell how effective these lines are, evaluations completed so far have demonstrated that they are safe, popular and cost-effective.

International experience has also shown that by following the advice received from these types of phone triage services people often require less resource intensive care. It can also encourage people to get timely access to GP or hospital services instead of waiting until their condition becomes more serious.

I believe it is important that New Zealanders are provided with the right information and advice so they can make better decisions about their own health. Healthline offers an excellent way of achieving this.

Healthline will also offer the opportunity to utilise and develop the skills of health professionals in a more appropriate way.

For example it provides nurses with a new career opportunity and opportunities for general practitioners and Emergency Department staff to focus on those patients for whom their skills are most needed.

I have already mentioned the importance of the nursing contribution to this new service. The development of Healthline has been a catalyst for the development of sector-wide telenursing standards.

These standards were finalised last week and are the product of a much hard work by the nursing profession, the Nursing Council, Nursing Professional Advisory Group, Health Funding Authority, the Ministry of Health, and Standards New Zealand.

The standards take into account unique New Zealand factors, particularly the need to provide culturally-appropriate services. The consortium providing the Healthline service, High Performance Healthcare, the Access Health Group of McKessonHBOC, and the Order of St John, have undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure the service meets the needs of Maori, and addresses the Government's commitment to providing improved healthcare for Maori.

These telenursing standards are important for a number of other reasons:

 They will govern the competency of the nursing staff employed by the Healthline consortium.
 They will be enforceable by the Nursing Council of New Zealand.
 New Zealand is one of the first countries to take this step in developing these standards.

It is interesting to note that a number of countries have already requested copies of these standards, and they will also be relevant to other telenursing providers.

Evaluation of this service is important. Healthline is only commencing its pilot stage in New Zealand. While similar lines overseas have been popular and successful, New Zealand and its health sector do have different characteristics from other triage settings. Healthline is therefore going to be carefully evaluated.

I am pleased to be able to announce today that the group to evaluate the service is BRC Marketing and Social Research with partner organisation, Te Pumanawa Hauora, from Massey University.

They are also to be joined by a GP from the School of General Practice in Wellington and a nurse researcher from Auckland University.

Their task will be to evaluate how effective the Healthline service is over the first 18 months. Their final report is due with the Ministry in January 2002. I will be looking forward to receiving advice from the Ministry shortly after this time on whether the service should be expanded, become more targeted or changed in any way.

Before concluding, I think it is important that we do acknowledge that as with any change, not everybody has been convinced of the need for this particular service, or convinced that the most appropriate areas were chosen for the pilot programmes.

However, the important thing now is that the service is about to get underway, and I am sure that once it has been running a few weeks, its value will become readily apparent.

I am pleased to be advised that Healthline has at its core a strong quality assurance system. For example, Healthline is using internationally tested computer technology that has been locally approved.

I encourage both Ministry of Health and Health Funding Authority officials and those at the Healthline consortium to create opportunities for dialogue with communities and local health providers, and to continue to listen to these groups.

I would also like to encourage health providers and the pilot communities to be open to this service and the opportunities it provides.

My thanks go to the Ministry and Health Funding Authority for their leadership role, and for the extensive work undertaken in order to develop the service.

In addition, a number of different groups and people from the sector have assisted the Health Funding Authority and the Healthline consortium to develop the service. In particular I would like to thank the sector reference group, the algorithm review panel and Te Tai Tokerau MAPO for the assistance they have provided.

I would now like to take this opportunity to officially launch this call centre. I look forward to receiving reports on how the service does over the next two years, and I am confident that the care that has been taken before the service begins augurs well for it to be a significant success.

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