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International Interest In NZ Health Changes

8 April 2002

Health system changes in New Zealand are attracting international attention.

The Ministry of Health today launched a report by the European Observatory on Health Care Systems, written in collaboration with the Ministry, examining New Zealand's experience over the past ten years alongside that of European countries.

The Health Care Systems in Transition (HiT) report is part of a series that overviews and analyses the health care systems of over 40 European countries, as well as Australia, Canada and the USA. "Initially European countries were the only focus, but due to the international interest in our health changes, the European Observatory on Health Care Systems asked the Health Ministry to collaborate on a report on New Zealand," said Deputy Director-General Sector Policy, Dr Gillian Durham.

"The report is an accessible and informative overview - and will be a useful document both domestically and internationally."

"As the oldest welfare state New Zealand has a lot of experience to share with others," said Dr Josep Figueras, Research Director of the European Observatory on Health Care Systems.

"We all face similar challenges in our health systems and European approaches can also be of interest in New Zealand: international comparisons can be very useful to policy makers."

Areas of particular interest were the commitment to reducing inequalities in health amongst Maori and Pacific people, the creation of 21 District Health Boards that involve communities in decision-making, and the recently announced three-year health funding package that will provide $3 billion extra in funding for health and disability services over three years starting in 2002/03.

Dr Durham said the report placed New Zealand's total expenditure on health at 8.2 percent of GDP, compared to the European Union average of 8.6 percent. "Yet we also rank 11th in the world in terms of Health Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE), above Canada (17th), the United Kingdom (19th) and the United States (28th)," she noted.

The European Observatory on Health Care Systems report also identifies key issues for the future, including the implementation of the Primary Health Care Strategy, tackling health workforce shortages, and building workforce capability for the future.

It notes that New Zealand is unusual among other countries in undergoing several major structural changes over the past two decades.

The first phase (1983-1992) introduced changes to the public sector, including decentralising health care funding and service management. Market principles were introduced to the health sector during the second structural change (1993 -1996) and principles of public service replaced commercial profit objectives during the third (1996 - 1999). Current changes move towards a population based health system, with the reation of District Health Boards through the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000.

Dr Durham said the latest changes would be the focus of a three year research project.

"The three year research project we are now about to embark on will be the first Government-funded evaluation of this type. The research will evaluate how the new system is working, identify successful practice and alert us to areas that need addressing."

The Health Care Systems in Transition report is available on the European Observatory on Health Care Systems website: (www.observatory.dk).


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