None of us would ever have wished for COVID-19 and the monumental impact it’s having here and overseas. It touches every aspect of our lives. Jobs. Travel. Finances. Personal freedoms.  And the health of our families and our feelings of security and wellbeing.

But not all effects of the novel virus have been negative. In the health sector, for example, it required people and systems to be more flexible, innovative and collaborative. It shone a light on the importance of health and wellbeing as more than just visiting the doctor or treating disease. And it fast-tracked important but difficult initiatives, such as the digitalisation of healthcare.

COVID-19 has created opportunities in health and for businesses involved in these sectors. In Canterbury, we are in a perfect position to take advantage of these opportunities. We have experience adapting to crisis, and a tight-knit health, research and education community who already work well together. What we need now is to maximise the benefits of collaboration. Get out of our silos and work together to get things done. That’s where Te Papa Hauora /Christchurch Health Precinct has a role to play. Our mandate is encouraging and enabling collaboration for our community’s benefit.

COVID-19 made us realise the importance of health, wellbeing, and our health sector. I predict in the coming months and years, health will take on a whole new significance in our economy. If you in a health-related business you will likely do well as the sector experiences growth. It could be apps, applied research in health, new digital technology, or more practical parts of the health system such as new machinery and health appliances.

Simulation in education is already an area of growth and this will continue. It opens up opportunities to train and retrain people and familiarise them with new procedures without the risk of human interaction. In a high-risk environment, like with COVID, simulation becomes really important. In the Manawa building, where Te Papa Hauora is based, there is a state-of-the-art simulation suite being used to train Canterbury DHB staff and health students from the Universities of Canterbury and Otago and Ara Institute of Canterbury.

COVID-19 has required people to flex and bend – particularly in primary care. The lock-down required general practices to change their model of care overnight. They moved from face-to-face contact with patients to telephone or video consultations. Pharmacies moved from paper to e-prescriptions. They are going to need help with technology and systems to grow and improve these services. This provides opportunities for business.

The international health student market is worth tens-of-millions-of-dollars a year to Canterbury. Border closures are having a significant impact. We need to find ways to manage cross-border movement in a risk-free way or change our systems. Or both. While borders are closed we need to find ways to contact and engage potential students so they know we want them here. In future, we will need to accept international students into the country with appropriate safety measures. For me, this means strict testing and quarantining on arrival.

COVID-19 has focused our attention on health workers and their importance. We need more great people to work in all parts of our health sector. We need to make sure people know health is a career that offers a big future and is a really exciting place to work. It is changing quickly and will not be entrenched in its past. And if you are working in health, Canterbury is the place to be.

COVID has pushed us all in new directions. There will be new challenges and we will need to try new ways of operating and working better together as a community. There are incredible opportunities if we are brave enough to open ourselves to the possibilities and embrace change.  I believe Canterbury’s health sector is more than capable of it.

Peter Townsend

Independent Chairman, Te Papa Hauora.