25 Jul 2016

Not enough psychiatrists in rural areas despite suicide risks

From Nine To Noon, 9:10 am on 25 July 2016

A lack of medical professionals wanting to live in rural areas means patients in the country are having difficulty accessing GPs and mental health services, the Rural Health Alliance says.

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[thumbnail:75670:full] Photo: 123rf

The Alliance's chair Jo Scott-Jones, who is also a GP in Ōpōtiki, told Nine to Noon there was a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, nurses, and mental health workers willing to live in remote places.

That was a concern, he said, as suicide was a real issue in rural communities.

"I, over the years, have seen far too many, particularly young men, choosing suicide as an option as a result of family pressures, social isolation, certainly the economic difficulties."

He said it was a feature of everyday life for rural doctors.

Once identified, the problem was where to go for help.

"Access is the rural issue," he said.

About 25 percent of rural practices were actively looking for another GP, Dr Scott-Jones said.

He did not know the figures for psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health workers but said there was a "woeful lack of psychiatrists" in general.

"There are many small communities around New Zealand that are reliant on short-term locums working in clinics and there's no real opportunity for patients to build up a trusting relationship."

Dr Scott-Jones said he loved the community he lived in and could not understand why more people would not want to move to such locations.

"It's absolutely marvellous, I love where I live, I have a fantastic lifestyle."

One solution would be to train the people who were working in those communities already, he said.

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