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National draws on Labour's rural health

2 September 2005

National draws on Labour's rural health initiatives

The National party has once again drawn on Labour initiatives for its own, says Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor.

"The National party has today released a rural health policy that mirrors work already being done in rural health. It proposes incentives to attract doctors to rural areas; Labour has numerous initiatives in place doing just that.

"Last year we raised the cap at Auckland and Otago universities, with an extra 20 places now available at each university for students from rural backgrounds, because history tells us it's people from rural backgrounds that tend to take up permanent positions in rural areas.

"We commit $8.4m annually to support rural workforce retention, $3m to recruit rural GPs and provide locum services, and $2.6m to support reasonable rosters for practices in rural areas.

"We provide $3.5m in rural bonuses that go directly to around 400 rural GPs, and we fund eight Primary Health Care Nurse practitioner (rural) scholarships a year and 44 rural Primary Health Care Nursing Post Graduate Diplomas to boost the rural workforce.

"Ten rural scholarships are provided for every year, at $15,000 per trainee, and 20 post-graduate placements at rural practices ($30,000 per trainee). And these are just some of the initiatives we have in place to encourage rural doctors.

"We also fund NZLocums, a specialist rural recruitment agency. Figures just released show the agency is meeting 85 percent of locum requests from around the country. In addition, 20 permanent placements (one year or longer) have been made or secured so far this year."

Mr O'Connor said the National Party's student loan write off scheme for health professionals working in rural areas paled in comparison to Labour's promise to scrap interest on student loans for all New Zealand based graduates. "Medical graduates will be one of the groups to benefit most from Labour's scheme.

"Meanwhile it's all very well to say you'll attract practitioners to rural areas, but rural people should be very wary of National's intention to scrap universal subsidies for health visits and cut key funding and services.

"National neglected rural health in the 1990s and Labour has been picking up the pieces ever since."

In the last three years alone, Labour had:

- Introduced a new National Travel and Accommodation policy to assist thousands more rural New Zealanders to access specialist services.
- Expanded access to primary health care through the establishment of Primary Health Organisations in rural areas.
- Committed over $10m annually to safeguard New Zealand's rural workforce, through rural retention and reasonable roster funding.
- Established a new recruitment service for short and long term locum doctors and nurse practitioners.
- Established a scholarship scheme for rural nurse practitioners and a nurse post-graduate programme.
- Established a dedicated four-person rural health team in the Ministry of Health.
- Committed funding for eight Primary Health Care Nurse practitioner (rural) scholarships a year
- Funded the Mobile Surgical Bus to go into rural areas and provide essential services and surgery, with a second bus in the pipeline.
- Set up Healthline, a 24 hours, seven days a week free health information service.

- Funded improvements to rural hospitals e.g. Thames, Dunstan and Masterton.

- Set up a $136.9 million fund to help improve drinking water systems in small New Zealand communities.

- Established the Tourism Demand Subsidy Scheme to assist small communities to meet high tourism demand through improved water and wastewater treatment systems.

The National Party had once again neglected the big picture, Mr O'Connor said. "They've tried to win votes rather than acknowledge the health needs of rural New Zealanders. Meanwhile, Labour will continue its comprehensive and long term strategy to boost the rural workforce."


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