Journal of Professional Nursing

Primary health care for youth in New Zealand. Are current health strategies working?

Jane Dutton, RN, Grad. Dip. (Mid), Health Nurse, Student Health Centre, UCOL, Wanganui

Reference:  Dutton, J. (2006). Primary health care for youth in New Zealand. Are current health strategies working? Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 22(2), 12-21.


This article presents a critique of New Zealand health strategies in terms of how well they are serving youth. It is argued that over the last two decades successive changes in government policy, while aimed at improving people’s health, have either not worked or had negative effects for specific population groups. There is now clear evidence that lower socio-economic status has an adverse affect on health, particularly among disadvantaged groups such as Maori and Pacific Islanders. In discussions about disadvantage and health inequalities youth as an age group is often ignored. Yet young people have special needs in relation to their developmental stage, the transition between child and adult. They have high potential for behaviours identified as placing them ‘at risk’; and that may impact on their future health. The New Zealand Health Strategy released by the Government in 2000, and the Primary Health Strategy (King, 2001) were intended, through additional funding and emphasis on primary health care, to lead to better health for all New Zealanders. For some groups, such as youth, these gains have not been achieved, and in many instanced the situation has worsened.

New Zealand health policy, youth health, socio-economic disadvantage, primary health care

Recognising that inequalities in access to health care exist the government introduced the New Zealand Health Strategy (King, 2001) with policy targeted towards overcoming these problems through emphasis on primary care and associated funding changes. Unfortunately the benefits have not reached all groups. It is argued that as a group, New Zealand’s youth are disadvantaged. Youth, that is to say young people between the age of 15 and 25, have special needs (Gidley & Inayatullah, 2002). The focus of this article is on the failure of health policies in New Zealand to recognise, and hence meet these needs. Disadvantage may arise from a number of sources (of which being Maori or Pacific Islander is one) but tends to be increased for those living on a student allowance and who are therefore financially limited. The combination of low income and specific or developmental needs means that there is the potential for the current and future health of youth to be adversely affected. It is through work in the student health centre of a tertiary institute that the author has become more aware of this situation and its implications. The institute is located in a lower North Island city (approximate population 45,000). Nurses working with youth and those in primary health care need to identify and speak out on where current strategy fails and what can be done to meet the needs of disadvantaged youth in New Zealand.

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