New appointment affirms University's focus on population health

17 May 2016

Professor Ross Lawrenson

Professor Ross Lawrenson is an advocate for primary care and access to quality health services.

The University of Waikato’s newly-appointed professor of population health says New Zealand’s health system is facing the early stages of what will be a sustained period of increasing demand for services, with particular pressure arising in general practice.

Professor Ross Lawrenson is based in the University’s National Institute of Demography and Economic Analysis (NIDEA) in a joint appointment with Waikato District Health Board as its clinical director of strategy and funding.

Advocating for quality primary care

With a background in general practice, Professor Lawrenson is an advocate for primary care and has more than 20 years of academic research and teaching experience, having previously been Dean of Medicine at the University of Surrey and then Assistant Dean of the Waikato Clinical Campus and Professor of Primary Care at the University of Auckland.

He says the basis of health is working with families and communities, and taking a proactive approach to ensure no one is being left behind. “The general practice model has a lot of strengths to it. It’s at the core of primary care, and maintaining good primary care leads to better health outcomes.”

In his joint role, Professor Lawrenson will help plan health services throughout the Waikato district, aiming to ensure services are evidence-based, innovative, and reach people with high social and health needs.

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley says the appointment of Professor Lawrenson is a crucial step in helping address wider health issues. “We know that population health needs are changing, and that our system needs to change with it. As a university, we’re pleased Professor Lawrenson is on board to help lead our community in the right direction.”

An inclusive approach

Of particular focus for Professor Lawrenson is the provision of services for Māori, Pacific, low socio-economic and rural people, who are struggling to access quality health care. “Māori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population, but only 3.4% of the GP workforce. We want our health workforce to better reflect the population it serves.

“We also need to be supporting our rural areas better. Rural communities are the backbone of New Zealand, yet their access to health services is poor. The highest occurrence of cardiovascular disease is in rural towns, and GPs in cities far outweigh those in rural towns per head of population.”

Professor Lawrenson’s research focuses on general practice and he presents regularly at conferences on primary care around the world. He will give an Inaugural Professorial Lecture on 19 July at the University of Waikato.