More than 1700 Cantabrians have been kept out of hospital since the advent of a community-based rehabilitation programme.
The Community Rehabilitation Enablement and Support Team (Crest), introduced last April, aims to keep people recovering after a hospital admission in their own homes, with visits from nurses, physiotherapists and other health professionals.
Canterbury District Health Board is receiving about 50 referrals a week for the programme.
Board planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said Christchurch Hospital would have been "pretty stuck" this winter if it had not been for the programme.
"It was a heavy winter and we would have had problems if we didn't have Crest, and we put extra emphasis on it . . . to cope with demand and it worked well."
She said the aim of the programme was to improve patient care, not cut costs, but money had been saved because of it.
The board did not have a budgeted amount for aged residential care because it was "a demand-driven cost", she said.
"[It's] because we're no longer funding all aged-care beds in Canterbury like we did in the aftermath of the quake to ensure availability for those most in need of respite or long-term care."
In July and August, 354 referrals were made to Crest, up from 151 in the same months last year.
For the 2010-11 financial year, the board spent $22.25 million on aged care, compared with $21.9m for the 2011-12 financial year.
Gullery said demand for aged-care dementia services had increased by 6.6 per cent last financial year, which ended in July, while demand for rest home-level care fell 6.7 per cent and hospital-level care remained stable.
"This reflects the CDHB initiatives to support people to access services they need in the community that help them to remain in their own homes, which is a real positive for our older people because they want to stay in their own homes for as long as they can," she said.
At the board's recent meeting, finance manager Justine White said there had been a "good under-spend" on aged residential care "on the basis of Crest and home support".
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Stephen Phillips said the programme was "working very well".
"It's growing too, which is a good sign, and I know of one man who receives up to four visits a day from different support people and it makes a huge difference," he said.
John Lawson, 66, of Belfast, spent four weeks in the intensive care unit at Christchurch Hospital last month after suffering from a "nasty virus that attacked my heart and lungs".
He is now receiving home visits by physiotherapists and support people.
"I just couldn't wait to be home, and having someone pop over and take me out on a walk is a big help," he said.
"I think it's a really great service."
- © Fairfax NZ News
What would make you feel safer about cycling in Christchurch?Related story: Student's death 'so bloody sad'