Leaders behind the new free healthcare scheme for children in Northland want it extended to include everyone under the age of 18.
Northland District Health Board, Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation (PHO) and Manaia Health PHO this week formally announced a joint partnership that would affect more than 16,000 Northland children.
From October 1, Northland became the only region in the country to provide free general practitioner visits, after-hours consultations and prescription fees for children between 6-12 years old. Children 5 years old and under were already funded by the Government.
While the scheme will be implemented nationally in July 2015, the three health organisations chose to fund the service early out of their own pockets at a cost of about $450,000.
Northland DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain said, while the team was excited about the announcement, he hoped it would eventually be extended to everyone under the age of 18.
"The challenge for us is finding enough funding," Dr Chamberlain said.
Te Tai Tokerau PHO chief executive Rose Lightfoot said the organisation funded three youth health clinics, which had been well utilised and very effective.
Manaia Health PHO Chris Farrelly agreed there was a high need for young adults to have access to healthcare, particularly in regard to mental health.
While the Northland DHB will underwrite the scheme, its contribution came from previous savings from its strategic investment fund. The PHO's contribution came from previous government funding allocated to services to improve access to healthcare.
It is hoped the free GP visits for all under 13s will mean fewer hospital admissions from children due to largely avoidable conditions such as rheumatic fever, bronchitis and respiratory infections.
There was a high need for access to adequate healthcare when it came to Northland children, Dr Chamberlain said.
"We know that our children aren't as healthy as the rest of New Zealand," he said. "This is largely due to the low socioeconomic population, often in rural locations."
While the announcement was a step in the right direction, it was just the start of the journey, Mr Farrelly said.