Celebrating 25 years in style

Professor Jacqueline Cumming has devoted much of her career to under-researched areas of New Zealand’s health system including, most recently, the performance of primary healthcare services.

Professor Jacqueline Cumming stands and smiles before a mosaic of pharmaceutical bottles and boxes.

So it’s fitting that as she celebrates 25 years at Victoria University of Wellington, and the Health Research Services Centre she leads also turns 25, she has received a large Health Research Council (HRC) programme grant to research New Zealand’s primary healthcare system.

Worth $4.78 million over five years, the grant will support research that explores current models for delivering primary healthcare services through general practices, nursing clinics, and pharmacies, and how these models might be improved. A major part of the research will focus on the views of those using, or needing to access, care.

Jacqueline’s interest in this area dates back to her work as a policy analyst with the Department of Health in the early 1990s. At that time, New Zealand’s health system was being reviewed. It then underwent major restructuring and Jacqueline found herself working at the coalface of planning and implementing these changes.

“It was an exciting time but no one seemed to know what practical effect the changes would make. I was intrigued by the work of Professor Claudia Scott, in the School of Government, who was looking at these reforms, and when Claudia told me about a new research centre being established to investigate precisely those questions, I jumped at the chance to join it.”

When it was established in 1993, Jacqueline became a research fellow with the Health Services Research Centre, and was appointed director in 2001. Despite the many years she has spent working in primary healthcare research, Jacqueline says this research field in New Zealand is still relatively new.

“Research funding in New Zealand has traditionally gone towards developing new drugs or treatments, which are, of course, essential. But the health system—the primary healthcare system, in particular—is enormously complex and we need better information about where things are working well and what we can do better so policymakers can ensure we get the most for our money.”

Jacqueline explains that healthcare investment in New Zealand and around the world has gradually shifted towards primary services such as GPs and nursing clinics to reduce pressure on the hospital system.

The research programme she leads, Enhancing Primary Health Care Services to Improve Health in Aotearoa New Zealand, involves collaboration with colleagues at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago (Wellington), Pacific Perspectives Ltd, Whakauae Research Services, Counties Manukau District Health Board, and several international collaborators.

Jacqueline says she is looking forward to beginning the research programme and helping to improve health outcomes for New Zealanders.

“The Government spends $18 billion on the health system every year, but there has been little investment to date to see how that system is working, so it’s fantastic to see the HRC recognises the value of this sort of research with the new grant.”