Innovation - Key to a Successful Health System
September 23, 2022

Innovation - Key to a Successful Health System

Your Journey

Peter Townsend CNZM discusses the importance of innovation in health and the role played by Te Papa Hauora, Christchurch Health Precinct in Canterbury.

Holding on to the Good Stuff

We are currently facing some extraordinary and unique challenges as a country and a world. I cannot recall a period in my past working life when there has been such a myriad of very serious and major challenges, that on one hand threaten us and how we live, and on the other hand have the potential to provide us with enormous opportunities.

In the context of a busy continuing career, I have recently surprised myself with the revelation that I have spent 50 years actively involved in various employment and governance roles. That is very scary! However, it is clear to me that so far I have just skimmed the surface and there is a lot more to do yet.

Some time ago I decided that I could sum up the future of our country (and beyond) in one sentence.

“Our future will be determined by how we apply technology, to leverage our natural capital, on a platform of product and service integrity”

I am sure we all understand the meaning of natural capital; our resources.

In this context “integrity” means having to justify our environmental impact, and the proper use of human resources. It also means operating ethically and being fundamentally honest.

That edict has served me well over the years, as a guiding light, and is very relevant to me in my role as Independent Chair of Te Papa Hauora, the Health Precinct. 

Te Papa Hauora Christchurch Health Precinct

Te Papa Hauora was born out of post-earthquake Christchurch, identified as one of the city’s 18 new “Anchor Projects” and was one of the first out of the blocks. The Precinct incorporates the main hospital and other health-related buildings, sits between Hagley Park and the central city, and adjacent to the Parakiore Recreation and Sports Centre, the under construction, enormous facility which will be concentrating on community wellness. A worthy, nice, and not coincidental, juxtaposition.

Te Papa Hauora is a collaboration between Te Pūkenga Ara, Te Whatu Ora Waitaha, and the University of Canterbury and Otago University. It is strongly supported by Ngai Tūāhuriri, our Mana Whenua. Its purpose is to improve health outcomes in Canterbury through the collaboration of its stakeholders and the wider health sector. It facilitates and coordinates collaborations in health research, health education, innovation in health, and the interface with health-related business. It is fundamentally driven by the pursuit of equitable outcomes. While still at the start of its exciting journey, it is having an impact and making good progress.

In the context of upheaval and volatility, as we work to realise the opportunities in current health and education reforms, Te Papa Hauora provides a skilled, stable and neutral platform to pursue agreed initiatives that benefit all of its stakeholders. The small team is very active locally and beginning to explore how it can collaborate nationally with entities with complimentary objectives.

Innovation in Health

One of the areas Te Papa Hauora is keeping a watching brief on is how we can project and enhance some of the great innovations that have developed locally to improve health outcomes. Canterbury is recognised for many novel health interventions. These include; effective use of patient data across the system, using novel simulation capability to support medical training, having a unique after hours primary care offering, collaborating across the sector in different ways to improve research outcomes, improving recycling of disposable health products, conducting world leading clinical trials, developing new prosthetics, and leading edge scanning capabilities amongst a very long list of clever and valued initiatives.

Participants in the wider Canterbury health system have been very good at innovating through the application of technology.

We in Canterbury know we are not alone in these activities, but we do believe it is vital that as we go through change, we hold on to “the good stuff”, and ensure that it is applied across the health system to the benefit of all as we go forward. 

There is a risk that as we go through change and move towards adopting national processes, in the worthy quest of achieving more equitable outcomes, operating methods and systems could be reduced to the lowest common denominator. That cannot and must not happen in health.

There is also a risk as changes are implemented, and in particular budgets are inevitably constrained, that pioneering initiatives and innovation are the first victims to fall to the cost cutting sword. Too often innovation is seen as a discretionary activity, which is secondary to and a lower priority than delivering the basics. The reality is that in any operating system and any reform process, innovation is, and will continue to be, the key to continuing equity, success and improvement, and it must underpin what reform is all about.

Those who operate in the innovation space will need to continue to reinforce the fundamental importance of what we do, and to fight for it, sometimes against significant odds.

As we continue to work towards improving outcomes through change, let us not forget that how successful we are will be determined by how we continue to apply technology to leverage our natural capital, through smart and innovative practices, and also that the “integrity” word, and what it stands for will continue to be of paramount importance.

Whiria te tangata

Weaving the people together

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