Let's hope there’s truth in the talk of a funding reprieve for the rural health body Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ (RHAANZ).
The two day event in Wellington last week saw representatives from 42 membership organisations come together to discuss the current issues facing rural communities and determine the top five health issues that were important to take into parliament.
Chairman Dr Jo Scott Jones says the range of concerns reflects the feeling that we could be doing much better for people who live and work in rural communities.
"The top five issues – research, connectivity, improving wellbeing to address stress, health facilities, and health workforce development cover the whole spectrum of health service delivery," he says.
"Connectivity is one of the main issues for rural health. Improved standards of connectivity would allow centralised health services to reach into rural communities and develop and deliver more innovative health solutions with greater efficiency," he says.
"Prospective staff members in health services are often reluctant to move to rural areas where connectivity standards are substandard. This has impacts on the recruitment and retention of rural health providers in the regions."
Dr Scott Jones says RHANZ would like to see all rural medical facilities to be connected to fibre-like speeds by 2019 and a more rapid role out of broadband services.
"The Government's target to provide 99% of the population with more than 50MBs by 2025 will be instrumental in getting rural communities the broadband connectivity required, but we want it by 2020 at the latest. "
Also on the top of the agenda was the issue of rural health facilities, with the group referring to the downgrading and closure of rural hospitals.
"It's left a gap in rural health and emergency services in communities across New Zealand and the increased separation between patients and vital services is creating a barrier to health services," he says. .
"Current facilities should be maintained and strengthened."
Other issues put to parliament included the need to fill the significant gaps in knowledge to inform evidence based policy making, rural mental health funding and the lack of medical, nursing and social services professionals in rural communities.
"We'd like to see the Government adopt the concept of a pipeline approach to the rural workforce training – keeping rurally focussed students in rural areas throughout their training and in their early postgraduate years."
Dr Scott Jones says the next step will see the top priorities developed into a Manifesto that will be published in advance of the 2017 elections
"We know these are big issues that deserve a lot of thinking and exploration before they can be implemented. We're grateful for the opportunity to put our concerns to politicians across the entire political spectrum – from little acorns, great oak trees grow - we hope we have planted a few acorns."