PHO looks to priorities

Tai Chi classes could be out, and improving links between general practice and specialty services in, under the new Southern Primary Health Organisation, says chairman Dr Conway Powell.

Nine Otago and Southland PHOs have merged to create the super PHO, which came into being on Friday.

Dunedin's Mornington PHO will join at the end of the year.

Dr Powell said primary health organisations were low-key, and the public would notice little change.

Aside from about $1 million saved annually in governance and administration, the new organisation had 12 fewer full-time equivalent staff than the multiple PHOs, with more redundancies possible.

While all of the former PHOs' health programmes continued in the meantime, spending priorities would change.

Asked for an example, Dr Powell said Tai Chi provided in some parts of Southland for the elderly might have to go.

The new PHO had to prioritise money to the greatest need.

One of his goals was to streamline the track from general practice to specialty services. This might reduce waiting lists.

The PHO would also encourage the move to carry out more procedures in general practice, reducing the need for trips to hospital.

Improving the links between the community and hospital and specialist services would be helped by the district health board having one PHO to deal with, rather than nine, he said.

He acknowledged the process of merging PHOs had been difficult for people in charge of the merged PHOs.

The process could have been handled more ruthlessly, but the transition authority proceeded by negotiation rather than by cancelling individual contracts, he said.

On a positive note, the close links forged between the small PHOs and the community would be maintained through an advisory group comprising members of the former PHOs.

Southern PHO chief executive Ian Macara was confident the PHO would not lose touch with rural Otago and Southland, and many small programmes in isolated areas would continue.

The Southern Primary Health Organisation has offices in Dunedin, Invercargill, and Alexandra.


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