Primary health care social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: An exploratory investigation

Stefanie Dobl, Liz Beddoe, Peter Huggard


INTRODUCTION: The social work profession has a long-standing history of contributing to health care in Aotearoa New Zealand. Traditionally, hospitals have been the stronghold for the profession. However, both international and national evidence demonstrates that social workers have also been integrated in primary health care practices (PHCPs). Primary health care (PHC) provides care in the community and is recognised for its potential to achieve health equity across all population groups. This article reports on a small, qualitative research project which explored the perceptions of key stakeholders about social work integration into PHC and the experiences gained by social workers working within PHCPs regarding their contributions to the achievement of national aspirations for PHC.

METHODS: Semi-structured, one-to-one interviews with 18 participants representing three groups (social workers, other PHC professionals and key informants) were undertaken in 2012. The interviews took place in various locations in Aotearoa New Zealand. A general inductive approach was used to identify key themes.

 FINDINGS: Three key themes were identified from the data: these are issues of context, namely social work professional factors, organisational factors in PHC and lastly, wider factors in the health care system. The integrated social workers enhanced the access of populations to coordinated care, increased engagement with communities, and strengthened the workforce, among other things. These unique contributions towards the PHC vision were well recognised by all groups, with participants calling for the establishment of integrated social work positions on a larger scale.

 CONCLUSION: The study evidences the successful integration of social workers into PHC practices in Aotearoa New Zealand. This viable model should be of special interest for key stakeholders regarding the design of local, holistic, PHC services which serve populations most affected by health and social inequalities. Importantly, “health for all”, as anticipated by the PHC vision needs long-term and real commitment especially by financial decision-makers.


Social work; primary health care;integrated care; general practice

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