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MOH consults on referred services report

Ministry of Health consults on referred services report

A report on the future funding and management of drugs and laboratory tests will make an important contribution to reducing health inequalities among New Zealanders, Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi said today.

The report, prepared by an expert advisory group, looks at how pharmaceuticals and lab tests should be funded and managed within the new Primary Health Organisation (PHO) environment.

``The report marks a further step in implementing the Primary Health Care Strategy released in February last year,'' Dr Poutasi said.

``It highlights considerable inequities in current patterns of spending on pharmaceuticals and laboratory tests. Some of this arises from poor access to primary health care in disadvantaged parts of the country.

``Obviously if people aren't getting to a GP, they aren't having drugs prescribed, or lab tests ordered, so spending is low. The development of `Access' PHOs in these areas, with low patient fees, is a key part of improving access in low-income, high-need areas.''

The report shows significant variation in prescribing patterns between individual doctors and GP practices. Much of this variation does not appear to be justified by differences in health need.

The group's report recommends that to get better health outcomes and reduce health inequalities, emphasis should now be placed on achieving a more equitable allocation of referred services resources and improving the quality of referred services use.

A three to five year timeframe has been proposed for moving to equitable funding.

Health Minister Annette King said she welcomes the report's dual focus on equity and quality.

``Implementing the recommendations will mean that prescribing and the use of lab tests will be more closely aligned with international evidence of effectiveness. That in turn means better health for New Zealanders, which is the big picture everyone in the health and disability sector is working towards,'' Ms King said.

``I want to thank the expert advisory group for its work, and I support the broad direction of the recommendations, but I would also like to hear the views from other key sector groups before taking decisions,'' Mrs King said.

The report, Referred services management: building towards equity, quality, and better health outcomes, has been placed on the Ministry of Health's website (www.moh.govt.nz) and those interested should send comments to the Ministry by 18 December.

Dr Poutasi said that in some areas, further policy development will be needed before implementation can begin.

``For example, to move to more equitable funding of referred services, a funding formula will be needed.''

The Ministry will be working on these details during the next three months. A second consultation round will be held before final details are decided.

Changes will start to be implemented from 1 July 2003.

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