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Councils provide rural bandaid

MEDIA RELEASE

Councils provide rural bandaid

For immediate release on 28 November 2001

Councils in some rural areas are so concerned about losing doctors and basic medical care in their areas they have had to step in to stop an already big problem getting worse.

Local Government New Zealand Strategy Leader Mike Reid says since rural services started to decline councils have been under pressure from their communities to retain existing services and to attract doctors to their areas.

Mike says that for 10 years councils have lobbied central government to provide more resources for rural services but little progress has been made.

“I am hopeful that a paper, commission by the Ministry of Health, and written by National Centre for Rural Health Director Martin London, will come up with some fresh solutions.”

London’s 60 page document outlines ways to improve rural health services. It is now before an expert advisory team and is due for release soon.

Hurunui District Council now invests 1.2 million in its health portfolio. It owns medical centres in Cheviot, and Rotherham, a doctor’s home in Cheviot and has just allocated $162,000 for a new doctor’s house in Rotherham. The council’s investment into buildings helps reduce the financial barriers for new GPs interested in rural practice.

Chief Executive Paddy Clifford says it is too much to expect a doctor to have to buy a building, a practice and pay off a large student loan, “they are just not going to come”.

“Rural communities have watched successive governments withdraw support. They have lost post offices, banks, and jobs. But communities can not survive without medical services and schools.”

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He says some ratepayers did object to local government investing in medical facilities, which they saw as a state function but the vast majority supported it.

New Zealand’s rural doctor workforce of 528 is now between 80 to 100 members short causing stress and burn out in the system.

“In reality, if we do not play a part, who will? There is an emerging realisation that we have to be pragmatic about these issues,” he says.

The Mackenzie District Council has also had an on-going problem with securing doctors.

Mayor Stan Scorringe says that they have had to invest money into the medical practices in both Fairlie and Twizel to ensure that the service is not lost from the area.

A trust has been set up called High Country Health to retain doctors in Twizel. The Trust has had to pay a salary for two doctors of $100,000 each. Ensuring that locums are available to give doctors time off is also an on-going problem.

Paddy says the problem is that there is no leadership, no connective threads running through District Health Boards, Ministry of Health, local government and doctors. “We need someone to pull the threads together in a collaborative approach.”

London’s strategy paper looks at boosting recruitment by selecting medical students from rural backgrounds and giving students rural work experience.

To attract students into rural areas the paper suggests a loan reduction scheme where every year a GP stays in a rural practice, $5000 would be deducted off their loan, up to a maximum of $25,000. Mayor Scorringe says this is a scheme he would support.

A national locum support network set up for rural GPs by the previous government totalling $2 million is about to begin. It will allow rural GPs a total of 10 days locum cover per year. This is considered as a token gesture by some rural doctors.

Rural Women NZ and the University of Otago have recently released a report on a nation-wide survey it conducted in November 2000. The survey looked at rural families’ access to health care.

A recent report shows that the access to and the cost of medical care is a problem for many rural areas.

The biggest barrier to GPs and pharmacy services was the cost, as well as associated costs relating to distance and travel.

The survey looked at rural families’ access to health care. Just over 1000 rural households, representing 4075 adults and 949 children responded.

The main finding:

- 56% of households considered that distance was a difficulty in accessing accident and emergency services
- 51% of respondents reported problems accessing maternity services

- 71% of respondents reported cost as the biggest barrier to accessing adult dental services
- More households reported difficulty using specialist services than any other medical service, due to waiting lists, distance and costs
- 79% of households do not have good access to public transport, meaning it can not be considered a reliable back up for those in need of transport to health services
- Telecommunications mean that 32% of respondents could be without a means of communication at any given time.


END

For more information contact: Elizabeth Hughes, Manager Communications, Local Government New Zealand, phone 04 470 0008,

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