Rural health at risk

by Anonymous Author

The lives of rural New Zealanders are at risk every day because of poor connectivity and inequitable health services.

That’s according to Dr Martin London, chair of the Rural Health Alliance of Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ), who says government needs to help remove barriers so rural people’s health be considered just as important as those who live in cities.

RHAANZ, which has 47 national member organisations encompassing rural health providers, agribusiness groups, universities, rural community groups and local government, recently held its national rural conferences in Wellington. 

RHAANZ chair Dr London also met with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to outline the organisation’s priorities for improving health services in rural areas.

“We reminded him (Mr Coleman) that with at least 600,000 people living in rural regions, effectively New Zealand’s second largest city, we are an important constituency from an economic and political perspective,” Dr London said.

“Overseas evidence links health and wellbeing to economic productivity.

Intuitively this will apply in New Zealand so it is an imperative rural people receive their fair share of publicly funded health services and have equitable access to health services. We asked him to reinstate rural proofing across all government departments and we want to fast track a new definition of rurality as it pertains to health services in New Zealand.

“These are two of the most important ways we can hold policy makers to account for equitable health outcomes for rural people.”

Dr London said mobile blackspots remain a serious issue across rural New Zealand, especially in case of emergencies. 

“Poor broadband connectivity is a barrier to education and the slow pace of UFB and RBI2 roll-outs are dampening progress, production and innovation.”

He said the responses to major disasters such as last year’s Kaikoura earthquake show what can be done in an innovative way to bring services to rural areas.

“Much can be learned from these adverse events and needs to be carried over into business as usual. It’s just a pity it takes a major earthquake to do it.

“We also know there are simply unrealistic expectations placed on the rural health workforce especially in regard to emergency and after-hours services.

“Our rural health workforce is ageing, tired and burnt-out and we need better retention and recruitment. We need greater workforce flexibility, nurse practitioners and pharmacists for example, as a key way to improve access to health services for rural people. Dr London said we also need to make our small towns liveable so that people want to come and to stay. “If we can make our rural communities vibrant again many of our issues will be solved.”