News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Rural people at risk from failing health services

Monday, 27 November 2000

Dr Ralph Wiles Chairperson

Rural people at risk from failing health services, GPs say

People living in rural areas, and even those in some provincial towns, are now “at very real risk from inadequate health services and grossly overworked general practice staff,” warns the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners.

“The situation in Kaitaia (which may fall to five GPs when it should have 15, and where the largest surgery is about to close) is merely the most extreme so far,” says College Chairperson Dr Ralph Wiles. “Rural GPs have been signalling for years that they are burning out, simply because there are not enough of them. It’s not uncommon to have a situation where one doctor is doing the work of three or four, unable to have a holiday and, equally importantly, unable to spare the time to continue their medical education, which is vital to maintain their competence.

“Many rural and provincial GPs know that when they come to the end of their time in their current practice, they will be unable to sell. Insufficient numbers want to enter rural general practice because the situation in those areas is well known… so the result is a self-perpetuating spiral where fewer and fewer newly qualified doctors are going to work in rural and provincial areas and those who remain are placed under increased pressure. It’s even more alarming when similar problems are beginning to be observed in some urban areas.

“Something has to give, and inevitably patient safety will be compromised,” Dr Wiles predicts. “Doctors want to be able to give good, safe service, and would rather walk away than fail to do so. It’s not an issue that can wait for the Minister of Health’s Workforce Advisory Committee to consider once it’s formed next year. It must be addressed now. In the immediate term, support needs to be offered to GPs doing unsafe levels of on call work. That might be a salaried rural locum service, it might be incentives to newly qualified doctors to choose to locum in rural areas, it might be community ownership of facilities – there are any number of options, and these need to be explored with local communities. Innovation and new ideas should be encouraged.”

However the College cautioned against filling the gaps with substandard care. “Fast-tracking the process for approving the qualifications of doctors who have trained overseas and whose training may not meet the same standards as applying to New Zealand-trained doctors is not the answer,” Dr Wiles cautioned. “Rural communities need to be served by health professionals of the same quality, including cultural understanding, as are urban communities. The urgency of the problem does not mean it justifies the creation of a ‘two tier’ health system.

“In the longer term, however, a comprehensive rural primary care strategy must be implemented. That starts with the government funding a sufficient number of training places, and finding a way of ensuring that a percentage of graduates choose rural or provincial practice. At the same time, the government must work with communities to address issues of retention and working conditions.

“Doctors and practice staff are struggling to provide quality medical care to their rural and provincial patients, and are signaling they need help. If those signals are ignored, it will be the government which is culpable for the outcome,” Dr Wiles said.


Contact: Dr Ralph Wiles (07) 886-5239 or (021) 658-564 or: Rex Widerstrom (04) 496-5962 or (025) 549-637

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland