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Call for rural focus in medical Voluntary Bonding Scheme

17 August 2012

Rural Women NZ calls for rural focus in medical Voluntary Bonding Scheme review

Rural Women New Zealand is calling for more transparency around the number of doctors, midwives and nursing graduates working in rural communities under the Voluntary Bonding Scheme, which gives financial incentives to health professionals who agree to work in hard-to-staff areas.

"This scheme was offered as a means of attracting health workers to rural communities," says Rural Women New Zealand health spokesperson, Kerry Maw. "However, our request to the Minister of Health under the Official Information Act has revealed that no data is kept on how many of those registered in the scheme actually work in rural areas, as opposed to other hard-to-staff locations."

The scheme, which has been running for three years, is now under review by Health Minister Tony Ryall, as the first of the graduates become eligible for payouts towards their student loan debts.

"We are concerned to hear that just 25 doctors, of a potential 105, have had their payments approved so far, and that the numbers of those now applying to join the scheme has fallen significantly," says Mrs Maw.

A key concern is that the scheme appears to have failed to attract any rural GPs, according to the Rural General Practice Network, despite over 44 permanent GP vacancies around the country.

"Rural primary healthcare services are being supported by international medical graduates, who make up 57 percent of the rural GP workforce, instead of encouraging our local graduates to work in rural communities."

Rural Women New Zealand says the problem is urgent, as the average age of rural GPs is rising, and is now between 50 and 55 years.

"Rural Women New Zealand fully supports positive incentives for nurses, midwives and doctors to work in the rural sector, and would like to see this as a clear target in the Voluntary Bonding Scheme's review."

"The impacts, both socially and financially, are huge when rural hospitals and communities have to rely on a series of locums, potentially putting health outcomes for clients at risk. On the other hand, there are very tangible benefits to attracting a strong, stable workforce to these communities."

ENDS

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