Dr Carol Atmore appointed WellSouth medical director

Tuesday 18 May 2021


A leader in primary and community health services and academic general practice has been appointed as the new medical director for WellSouth primary health network.

Dr Carol Atmore is taking on the clinical leadership role at a point of significant change in the health sector. A passionate advocate for health system change, she says it’s the opportunity to help shape how the government’s planned Health and Disability System Reforms are developed and implemented locally and regionally that’s prompted her move from academia back to work in the health care sector.  
“This is a phenomenal time to be involved, to help make a contribution to the future design of the health system in Aotearoa,” says Dr Atmore, who joins WellSouth from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health at the Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, where she has been a senior lecturer and Head of Department since August 2019.

“I’m very excited about the potential for change. I think WellSouth will have an important role to play and I want to be a part of it.”

Dr Atmore says the plans for health system change are truly transformational: “This is the best opportunity in the last 20 years to improve the health system in New Zealand. This includes better coordination of health services across the system, a strong role for primary health care, autonomy for Māori and improved equity of outcomes.

Of particular interest is the creation of locality networks that will ensure that primary and community care is better designed and coordinated to meet local needs and priorities. These are likely to be created by local health providers working together with local governments, iwi, and other key stakeholders.

“The ministers have set direction of travel and there is an opportunity now to have an impact in how these changes will take shape in this region,” she says. “There are really great people here, working in all parts of the health system – secondary, primary and community. We have to break down barriers that prevent us from working together. We can all pitch in and create the future.”

Dr Stephen Graham stepped down as WellSouth medical director earlier this year to return to general practice and continues to work with the primary health network as a clinical advisor.

Dr Atmore, who takes up her new role with WellSouth starting in July, has been a GP for over 25 years, and currently also works as a GP at Dunedin Health Centre. She has led whole of health system change on the West Coast, in her role as Chief Medical Officer for West Coast DHB, prior to moving to Dunedin in 2015. She has also held leadership roles at the South Island Health System level and national clinical director roles with the Ministry of Health, in bowel cancer (2009-2010) and long term conditions (2017-2018). She completed a PhD in rural health in 2019. Her research interests include health systems redesign, the role of generalism in health care, rural health and health care integration.

While “very sad to leave a great group of colleagues” at the University of Otago, Dr Atmore says the current time in the health sector is “a once in a generation opportunity for change.” The importance of evaluation and benefits of using evidence-based research to inform health care delivery are key learnings she’ll take away from her current job and apply in her new role.    

Chief Executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs says WellSouth and other stakeholders in the community have already begun discussing what health sector reforms – and locality networks, in particular - could look like in the Southern region and the contribution Dr Atmore can make in this space will be invaluable.

“Carol has knowledge, experience and a broad perspective that the health system needs right now. Carol brings people together and has a vision and practical understanding of how we can move forward and better deliver health services all while keeping what is best for patients and whānau and communities as the focus of our work.”

WellSouth chairman Dr Doug Hill agrees: “I have had the opportunity to work with Carol many times and couldn’t be more pleased that she is joining WellSouth.  She is energetic and has a strong track record of moving strategy into action. I look forward to working with her as WellSouth moves forward – particularly as we work with other agencies to formulate locality networks in Southern.”

Dr Atmore – Biography in Brief

 From 2017 to 2019, Dr Atmore was chair of Alliance South, the alliance between WellSouth and Southern DHB, which oversees the implementation of the Primary and Community Care Strategy across the Southern health system.

 Dr Atmore has been a resident of Dunedin since 2015, when she and her family relocated from the West Coast. She was a GP in Greymouth and from 2010 to 2015 served as the Chief Medical Officer of West Coast DHB. She’s also previously worked as a primary care clinician in Australia and the UK.

 In addition to more than 25 years’ experience in general practice, Dr Atmore has a longstanding interest in population health and health systems change. She has held a number of senior clinical leadership roles, including clinical director for long-term conditions with Ministry of Health in 2017-18 and for the Bowel Cancer Screening programme in 2009-10. Dr Atmore was the chair of the South Island Alliance strategic planning and integration team, helping to enhance collaboration and promote best practice amongst the South Island’s five DHBs.

 About WellSouth

WellSouth Primary Health Network is the primary health organization for Otago and Southland. We support general practice teams and coordinate and help in the delivery of primary health care on the lower South Island.

Our aim is to support people to look after themselves, promote healthy environments and help provide care, and access to care, where it’s needed.


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