20 September, 2012
Opening Lunn Avenue Medical Centre
Thank you Dr Alistair Sullivan for your kind introduction.
And thank you White Cross for inviting me to officially open your new integrated family health centre here in Lunn Ave, Mt Wellington.
This, I understand is the biggest White Cross family medical centre in the country - offering the people of Mt Wellington accident and medical as well as low cost primary care services, seven days a week.
I’d like to acknowledge some of the people who’ve contributed to this project:
Michelle Wood, Chief Nurse – and Project Manager – an example I’m told of efficiency where deadlines were met and costs came in under budget.
Horizon Radiology and Life Pharmacy – for their willingness to establish new operations whose values align with Better, Sooner, More Convenient – like staying open for patients alongside the general practice at least 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
And White Cross Board – for its judicious and valued governance.
Lunn A&M is one of nine accident and medical clinics owned and operated by White Cross – eight in Auckland and one in Whangarei. White Cross clinics see approximately 25,000 patients per month and have 300 employees.
Lunn Ave A&M is a new development, and as I’ve said it is the biggest. With plenty of space for a more fully integrated family health care service.
Free care for under six-year-olds
I understand the centre is keen to expand its scope of services and is developing a general practice for enrolled patients.
This includes free services for children under six years old.
The National Government is committed to giving young children the best possible access to health care. Over the past three years we have invested over $65 million on free doctors’ visits for under-six-year olds.
Now, across the country 340,000 children under six years old receive free visits to the doctor – that’s 54,000 more children than three years ago – a twenty three per cent improvement (93 per cent up from 70 per cent in 2008).
Participation is voluntary because most general practices are private businesses, but I’d like to thank the 950 plus general practices who have opted into the zero fees scheme.
The zero fees scheme is also benefiting children from the poorest homes with 98 per cent of high needs children enrolled with a doctor who provides free visits for under-sixes.
This year the National Government is also spending $28 million over four years giving at least 90 per cent of children aged under six access to free after hours doctors’ visits within reasonable travel time.
This is an important preventative measure as parents are more likely to take their child to the doctor for treatment before their condition becomes severe. It will also help reduce the numbers of young children presenting to our busy hospital emergency departments with an illness that a GP could have treated.
Seeing a doctor regularly has many benefits for both the child and family. Illnesses can be diagnosed and treated more quickly, their general health is monitored and a good relationship can be built between the doctor and parents. Being in regular contact with a doctor also ensures immunisations are completed on-time.
The Prime Minister’s challenge for better public services for vulnerable children includes supporting children towards a more stable relationship with a family GP.
We are committed to supporting every pregnant woman to have a named GP at birth, and all babies to be enrolled with a GP at birth.
I’d like to acknowledge White Cross’s commitment to providing free health services to under-six-year-olds.
Work health benefits
I’d like to talk a bit about how important GPs are in another area.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has announced another in a series of plans to put the right incentives into the welfare system. Many of the welfare reforms are about incentivising people to get into work.
It’s fashionable amongst some to see this as unfair...that we shouldn't have a welfare system that wants to help people become independent.
The international research is getting stronger by the day – having a job is good for your health – and being unemployed is not.
If a person has a health condition, or has had an injury, getting back into a work routine, sooner, helps them get better faster.
The British 2006 research paper, "Is Work Good for your Health and Wellbeing"*, found strong evidence that unemployment is generally harmful to health – including higher mortality, poorer general health, and poorer mental health.
One of the authors – Gordon Waddell - argued that ‘a sickness certificate is one of the most powerful, potentially dangerous treatments in a GP’s armamentarium’ (word of the day!).
Australian longitudinal studies* back this up. They say once people go off sick for a long time – then they’ve started down the slippery slope that leads to permanent unemployment and poorer health.
Australian academic Dr Debra Dunstan found that after 12 weeks off work the risk of prolonged work absence increases dramatically.
In fact long term worklessness has been equated with smoking TEN packets of cigarettes a day.
It is more important than ever to support people to work when health conditions arise or progress.
Evidence shows people with common health conditions can be helped back to work following a few basic principles of good healthcare and workplace management from their GP or practice nurse.
It would be fair to say that most groups – those representing people with disabilities, employers, unions, insurers - agree that encouraging sick, injured or disabled people back to work sooner improves their health, their wellbeing and their personal circumstances.
And health professionals do too. Last year our Royal College of GPs endorsed the Australasian Consensus Statement on the Health Benefits of Work.
The take home message from these findings is there is very good evidence underpinning the work the government is doing – particularly in welfare reform.
By addressing Health, Work and Well-being, we can make a real and substantial difference to the health of individuals and the cost to businesses and the economy.
Better sooner more convenient
White Cross has been proactive in privately developing family medical centres along the lines of this government’s better, sooner, more convenient plan for primary care.
For example, here at Lunn A&E you provide co-located services including pharmacy, physiotherapy, x ray and a dentist.
And, I understand, there are plans to expand that further into much greater integration between primary and secondary services with Auckland DHB.
This will potentially include CT and MRI diagnostics, outpatient clinics, orthopaedics, midwifery, renal dialysis – and a College of Urgent Care. (formerly AMPA)
I encourage White Cross to work closely with DHBs in developing future facilities – and Auckland DHB to include White Cross in their locality plan development.
If we want to deliver a fit for purpose and enduring health service into the future - we will be relying on general practice to provide it.
As American health researcher Dr Barbara Starfield says, "a good relationship with a primary care doctor, is associated with better care, more appropriate care, better health and much lower health costs."
You are the key to the future.
It makes sense.
I welcome greater dialogue and cooperation between primary and secondary services towards that end.
I would now like to officially open Lunn Avenue A&E.
Is Work good for your health and well-being? Gordon Waddell, A Kim Burton 2006 The Research Case for Better at Work. ACC Website.
Are sickness certificates doing our patients harm? Dr Debra Dunstan (Australian Family Physician, The Journal of the Royal Australian College of GPs.