Where did it begin, this idea of a Health Precinct, this belief in Christchurch as a place of collaboration and innovation in healthcare? Not, as you might assume, with the earthquakes. Rather, the rebuild is making possible the logical next progression in a long sequence of one good idea leading to another…

Who can say where the progression began? Forty-three years ago, for example, Otago University opened its medical school in Christchurch. What a remarkable triumph for collaboration that was in parochial provincial New Zealand. Perhaps we could point to the influence of individuals. For example: Professor Richard H. T. Bates, who, until his death in 1991, was Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Canterbury and a passionate advocate of multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Whenever it started, it has become an ongoing, unfolding story. Just last year, Canterbury’s health system won the Prime Minister’s Award for Public Sector Excellence at the 2015 IPANZ awards (one of four we were awarded) in recognition of our innovative approach. It’s instructive to go back ten or fifteen years, to a time when everyone could see healthcare needed to change or New Zealand wouldn’t be able to build enough hospitals or recruit enough healthcare professionals. Our response, in Canterbury, was to collaborate.

Our health service providers developed a shared vision for the future: a vision of an integrated healthcare system that would keep Cantabrians healthy in their own homes, by ensuring the right care is provided, in the right place, at the right time, by the right person. The paradigm shift was thinking of the patient as the centre of the system and the hospital, and other specialist healthcare services, on the perimeter. It required us to rethink pretty much everything we do. It meant, for example, working in partnership with general practice and community teams to increase the range of services provided by primary care. It meant—among a great many other initiatives—developing the Canterbury Clinical Network which brings together the almost 18,000 healthcare workers in Canterbury in order to collaborate and innovate.

Dr. Olive Webb, a Canterbury District Health Board member from its inception until her retirement in 2013, says she witnessed, “a transformation into a world-class health system. Clinicians and managers have joined forces and become bolder with innovation and ideas. People from all over the wider health sector come up with new ideas to make a difference.”

The outcomes have been extraordinary. Last year alone, over 30,000 people who would previously have been admitted to hospital received treatment and care in the community. 400 fewer people are in aged residential care. Fewer injuries and deaths from falls has freed up the equivalent of an entire hospital ward. There has been a 43% increase in the number of people receiving elective surgery.

Other places have noticed. Britain’s National Health Service, the Isle of Man, Qatar, Australia and Singapore have all sent representatives to investigate. The Canterbury DHB was invited to participate in an inquiry into health systems by the Australian Senate Committee on Health. David Albury, from the U.K.’s innovation lab, said, “It seems that, wherever I travel— from Rio to Sydney—many people in health know the Canterbury story. I’ve worked with numerous wonderful public sector innovation programmes around the world, and I still regard the Canterbury transformation programme as one of the most inspiring, innovative and incredibly effective programmes I’ve seen.”

Scientists call it ‘the adjacent possible’: the notion that every innovation—every evolutionary progression—opens a door to the next. It is a process that is alive and well in Christchurch and the Health Precinct is simply the next logical step, extending our long-established culture of innovation and collaboration.

Stella Ward, CDHB Executive Director of Allied Health, Canterbury and West Coast.