The NHS has been urged to learn from New Zealand when it comes to using IT in healthcare innovation.

A new “white paper” claims the sparsely populated nation can provide a model for cutting costs and boosting the quality of care. The document, commissioned by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, was launched at a seminar in London last week attended by IT firms and senior Department of Health officials.

In an interview with HSJ, Chai Chuah, director of the country’s national health board business unit, said the NHS should study New Zealand’s approach, including the way it was integrating IT and technological advances into wider healthcare reform.

New Zealand has a national health IT board, which invests in and evaluates ground-breaking IT projects. It also has a five-year national health IT plan, which specifies annual priorities.

Among the schemes cited by Mr Church were trials of “shared care plans” in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, with an IT system that allows GPs, patients, specialists and other healthcare professionals to access, update and share information.

IT should be at the forefront of plans for England’s NHS Commissioning Board and local commissioning groups, Mr Chuah advised.

He said strong leadership and direction was crucial in implementing New Zealand’s ambitious IT projects, including a move to greater sharing of information between GPs and hospitals.

New Zealand had also pioneered the involvement of patients at an early stage of IT programmes, helping to avoid concerns about privacy and data sharing, said Mr Chuah.

“There is a lot of innovation in the NHS in the UK but one lesson we’ve learned in New Zealand is you can sometimes spend a lot of time testing new things,” he said. “You have to make a start on implementation and development.”

New Zealand has also taken a robust approach to reducing deficits. It has brought the combined deficit of its 20 district health boards down from NZ$155m (£78m) to NZ$33m (£16.6m) in three years.

In 2009, New Zealand spent US$2,983 per capita on health, compared to the UK’s figure of US$3,487, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Watch a video of Malcolm Pollock, director of New Zealand’s National Institute for Health Innovation, discussing the country’s healthcare

Population

NZ – 4.5 million

UK – 61.5 million

Per capita health spend

NZ – $2,983 US

UK – $3,487 US

Health spend as a percentage of GDP

NZ – 9.8 per cent

UK – 8.7 per cent