17 Mar 2014

Politicians talk on rural health

3:31 pm on 17 March 2014

Politicians have told rural health professionals how their parties would go about addressing the uneven spread of the country's medical workforce and the lack of GPs that leaves rural communities vulnerable.

At the Rural General Practice Network conference in Wellington a Wellsford GP and rural health specialist, Tim Malloy, said the health sector was failing to adequately serve rural New Zealand.

"We have continued to fail at the most fundamental issue of the maldistribution of the medical workforce, the consequences of which are effectively an equity issue - inequity of access, inequity of health care to our vulnerable rural communities."

Dr Malloy challenged the politicians at the conference to come up with a solution.

National Party Ms Paul Hutchison said health workforce planning was particularly unpredictable and the Government was doing its bit to support the rural health sector with eight targeted initiatives.

One of them was providing specific places in medical courses for rural students. Under the party's regional rural admission scheme 90 places would be provided at Otago and Auckland medical schools for students of rural origin, along with 10 dental places in Otago.

Labour's health spokesperson Annette King said health workforce planning was fraught with difficulty and suggested a harder line might be in order. She said a little stick was needed along with the carrot.

"We've tried voluntary bonding; perhaps it's time we tried some more of the stick in terms of the investment that goes into training our health professionals and where we need them in New Zealand."

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague argued the Government needed to put more effort and resources into rural healthcare.

He said the country needed to do things differently and that if he were the health minister he would be all ears. He said his answer would be to get health professionals, district health boards, communities and training institutions in one room to get answers.

New Zealand First Party health spokesperson Barbara Stewart said her party would use a range of tools to recruit and attract medical professionals to rural areas. She said the party would consider student loan abatement and fees reductions for working in rural areas; along with the usual scholarships and voluntary bonding schemes.