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Rural health – still on the waiting list

The Government’s election year budget has not delivered much-needed funding to primary care in rural New Zealand at a time when pressure is growing across a number of fronts for the sector, says New Zealand Rural General Practice Network chairperson Sharon Hansen.

Ms Hansen was commenting following today’s Budget delivered by Finance Minister Stephen Joyce.

“We refer to equity in rural health and that means equity with our urban counterparts – both health professionals and patients – but the fact remains that urban New Zealand gets a better deal in terms of the quality and access to primary care health services, let alone access to tertiary care” says Ms Hansen.

“600,000 live in rural New Zealand and contribute hugely to the nation’s GDP. We face the same health challenges that urban people face but with the tyranny of distance and time added.

“So primary care in rural New Zealand remains on the waiting list. It is well recognised through the Government’s own health strategy that primary care and a preventative approach to population health is the way forward in the face of an ageing population and the high cost of secondary and tertiary health care in yet lip service has again been paid to adequately funding primary care especially in the rural context.

“Many rural practices have been struggling for years to fund equipment and services, such as after hours and PRIME (Primary Response in Medical Emergency) services and specialist diagnostic equipment that would enable rural patients to be assessed at the their local practice instead of having to travel to main hospitals placing further burden on those facilities and on individuals who have to travel sometimes considerable distance at a cost some cannot afford. Rural people have poorer access to care and suffer poorer health status and health outcomes compared to their urban counterparts. This budget does nothing to alleviate that.”

Ms Hansen says while the Government has made some progress in recent years in areas such as free GP care to under 13s and more recently mental health and suicide, there are still huge gaps in primary care funding that have once more not been addressed.

“We have a large number of GPs due to retire in the next five to 10 years, about 36 percent across NZ and there are about half the number of GPs in rural than in urban NZ. While more doctors are being trained there is still an aversion to choosing General Practice and especially rural General Practice when graduates choose their specialty. We only need to look across the ditch to see some of the incentives offered to graduates to attract them to work in rural.”

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