Monday, 19 February 2018 11:16

‘Scary’ rural health issues needs urgent government action

Written by  Pam Tipa
Michelle Thompson is calling for urgent government action on rural health. Michelle Thompson is calling for urgent government action on rural health.

Workforce shortages in the rural health sector – now and into the future –are “quite scary”, says Rural Health Alliance (RHAANZ) chief executive Michelle Thompson.

“We are saying to government, unless you get your head around this with some solutions we will have a crisis. You can’t just grow a doctor overnight,” she told Rural News.

“To get a doctor, for example, or even a nurse practitioner who can practice on their own in rural, you are talking the best part of 10-12 years.”

The Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ (RHANZ) was established over concern for access to health services for rural people and part of that is staffing, Thompson says. 

Two proposals are now in front of government: a joint one from Otago and Auckland medical schools and a proposal for a new medical school in Waikato. 

They were presented to the National Government. The new Government “is just sitting on them at the moment and none of us is sure which they will support, if any,” she says.

“There are some really good parts to some of those proposals and they have been founded on what we call a pipeline approach to health education and training.

“You take your best and brightest rural people, you signal they might want to have a health career, and then you train them in their chosen health profession – nursing, medicine, pharmacy, whatever it might be, in the community where they will serve,” Thompson says.

“If you do that, evidence overseas tells us you are much more likely to retain those people in a rural community; because they have grown up with a rural reality they understand what they are getting into and are not likely to leave. 

“Once you take them out of a small community – you show them the bright lights of Auckland or Wellington and you put them through medical school, for example, and they do a lot of their internships through Middlemore Hospital or Wellington Hospital – then you have lost them; they are unlikely to come back to the rural community.” 

Are you dumbing them down in the training? Thompson asks. Absolutely not. 

She believes if Auckland and Otago universities got the go-ahead they would have to set up outposts in various rural communities. 

“So the education is exactly the same. But instead of somebody living in a city and having a placement for, say, six weeks each year in a rural town, they would go to the city for six weeks and have their module – they are being trained in and living in the rural community they are going to serve. 

“When you look at what has happened in Australia and Canada, the evidence shows that these rural-trained students actually top their classes.”

 Both proposals before the Government are founded on that concept, but there are some commonalities and some differences, Thompson says.

“We support the objectives of both proposals, but we don’t have an opinion on which one is better. We will stay out of that argument.”

These were presented to the National Government, but RHAANZ doesn’t know what the next steps will be with the new government, she says.


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