More than half of Hawke's Bay teenagers aged 13 to 17 will receive free GP visits next year thanks to a unanimous decision by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board yesterday.
The board voted to adopt a pilot programme to subsidise all under-18s in 14 practices with high numbers of Maori and Pacific patients.
The subsidy is conditional on the practices becoming more youth-friendly through staff training and other measures.
Under-13s already receive free care under a national scheme.
Of the target age group it is estimated the programme will reach 85 per cent of Maori, 90 per cent of Pacific, 68 per cent of all GP-enrolled teens and 53 per cent of all teens.
Health board general manager performance, informatics and finance Tim Evans said the programme was about changing the nature and accessibility of health services for young people.
The New Zealand Health Survey 2013-2014 found cost the most significant barrier to accessing primary-care service in New Zealand. It said Hawke's Bay youth aged 15 to 24 had higher rates of unmet need for primary care - 34 per cent compared with the national average of 23 per cent.
The pilot programme is aligned with the HBDHB's Youth Health Strategy as well as the health board's goal of reducing health inequity. On average Maori live eight years less than Pakeha.
Maori Health programme manager Patrick LeGeyt told the board that access to primary care was a key objective of the health board's Maori Relationship board and Ngati Kahungunu.
He said the Hawke's Bay Clinical Council approved of the programme but limited funding to $520,000 and an equity focus "starting with Wairoa".
He said clusters of the participating practices will be phased on to the new programme from January next year and evaluation of outcomes would be comprehensive.
Hawke's Bay District Health Board chairman Kevin Atkinson said success would be a condition of extending the programme to other practices.
He noted all health board governance groups that had discussed the programme appeared to have approved it unanimously.
It is projected to cost about $582,000 over a full financial year and $63,000 above the amount allocated, but because of the staged rollout Mr Atkinson said it was likely to come in under budget.
Of the 12 practices interested in taking part in the programme eight already receive subsidies, with current fees ranging from zero to $12.
Health board deputy chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said the programme approval was a "yahoo moment". .
Helath board director of Maori Health Tracee Te Huia told Hawke's Bay Today the programme would provide better access to healthcare for teens and relieve pressure on Hawke's Bay Hospital's Emergency Department.