St John gets funding for community care service

Last updated 12:00 26/12/2013

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Sustainable Government funding for an Urgent Community Care (UCC) service in Horowhenua has been granted to St John despite a trial of the service failing to provide value for money.

An initial pilot of the service in December 2010, to decrease hospital admissions, was pulled earlier this year after research found there was little change, and that some people had been abusing the access to free health care.

Horowhenua was chosen as the location for the pilot after being identified as an area of high health needs with a shortage of primary care services, and for its distance from Palmerston North Hospital.

St John District operations manager Steve Yanko said that though the UCC pilot was a 24/7 service, the new service would operate only 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It will start on February 1.

"The reduction in hours should not cause any concern as the pilot did reveal that at night the demand was significantly reduced, therefore focus has become on strengthening UCC in the hours that it operates," he said.

"Our goal was to make sure that all patients who call 111 for an ambulance receive a response which is best suited to their needs.

"Treating patients in the community is in line with the Government's key objective for a Better, Sooner, More Convenient health system, which has a focus on moving some services closer to communities."

Earlier this month, MidCentral's portfolio manager of primary healthcare, Craig Johnston, said the Ministry of Health had indicated it would fund a second-stage pilot once a revised and innovative service model had been designed.

"Clinical leaders from Horowhenua and Palmerston North are working together to design an improved model, with work expected to be completed early in the New Year," he said. "The new model is likely to be based out of the Horowhenua Health Centre, where it will be tightly connected to Horowhenua Community Practice."

Mr Yanko said it was no longer sustainable for St John to be simply a service that transports patients to hospital.

"Where it is in the best interests of the patient, we are increasingly treating patients in their homes and in the community, rather than driving them to hospital for treatment," he said.

In the long term, St John believes programmes such as the Horowhenua UCC have the potential to reduce the number of patients taken by ambulance to emergency departments by more than 50,000 per year throughout New Zealand.

"We are pleased the Government has recognised the importance of this programme and provided funding to ensure it can continue," Mr Yanko said.

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"We are encouraged by our findings of the UCC service to date and enthusiastic about the contribution this St John service makes to health care in Horowhenua."

- Manawatu Standard

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