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$10.9m funding boost for rural health

14 October 2004

$10.9m funding boost for rural health

Associate Health Minister Damien O’Connor today announced a $10.9 million annual funding boost to help rural areas retain GPs, nurses and other health workers. This funding will be ongoing starting in 2005/06. It's a continuation of $32 million over three years that the Government committed in 2002/03 to address rural workforce issues.

Mr O'Connor said the government was committed to building strong public services, of which primary health care was one of the most important.

"We're aiming to improve the health of all New Zealanders and retaining and recruiting a skilled primary health care workforce is central to this, because it means access to sustainable services for rural communities.

"The funding package announced today reassures rural communities that they'll continue to get health care when they need it. It also reflects our commitment to primary health care as the way forward for all New Zealanders."

The rural primary health care premium has two parts – workforce retention funding and reasonable roster funding. The first enables extra payments to support primary health care workers such as GPs and nurses to stay in rural areas. The second helps those practising in such areas to have reasonable on-call rosters.

Mr O’Connor said the initial rural funding package of $32 million had helped District Health Boards (DHBs) with a wide range of innovative and useful rural workforce retention approaches.

"I’ve been very pleased to hear of long-term strategies being applied to help health professionals working in rural communities.

"These include initiatives like the Auckland DHB employing a second GP/locum on Great Barrier Island to support the Island's sole GP. Other areas have used the funding to help pay for telephone triage, locums, staff development and to train and employ more practice nurses to reduce daytime workload.’’

The reasonable roster allowance is allocated on a case-by-case basis, targeted at practitioners on call every second or third night, or even every night. DHBs were reporting that the funding was having a positive impact, Mr O’Connor said. In the Bay of Plenty DHB region, funding allocated to Opotiki, Murupara, Waihi Beach/Katikati, and Te Kaha is being used to support locum services and nurse triage.

In Northland the funding helps initiatives such as after-hours nurse triage and locums to cover weekends, weeknights or GPs taking annual leave. It also helps employ extra GPs or other staff.

The funding has helped the West Coast DHB to expand nurse employment by appointing an additional two registered nurses in Ngakawau and Reefton. It also employed an extra summer nurse to help with cover during the busy summer period when the West Coast has an influx of tourists.

Mr O’Connor will be facilitating a workshop of rural stakeholders later this year to discuss rural issues and ways to address them.

The rural funding is a component of the Primary Health Care funding package. In total, the Government will have committed $1.7 billion over six years from 2002/03 specifically for implementing the strategy using the Primary Health Organisation model (PHO).

There are 77 PHOs covering about 3.7 million New Zealanders. Many of the PHOs are in rural areas.


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