A strong call’s been made for the government to establish the country’s first independant Rural Health Commissoner, to champion the needs of more than 600,000 New Zealanders living in rural areas.
It comes from the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAĀNZ) – the umbrella organisation representing more than 30 of the country’s leading rural health, business and agricultural groups. RHAĀNZ members voted unanimously to back the call for the new Commissioner role at the organisation’s 4th annual RuralFest meeting in Wellington yesterday.
“RHAĀNZ delegates recognise that the crisis in rural health is now at such a critical point that it’s time for fresh thinking and a bold approach” says RHAĀNZ council member and Kaikōura GP Dr Chris Henry. “All agreed that despite successive government policies, the dual longstanding issues around workforce and inequity of access still dominate and that a Rural Health Commissioner role would deliver a simple and effective means of establishing leadership, much-needed cohesion, advocacy and accountability to the rural health sector. The new independent role, based on a successful Australian model, would broker workable solutions to support the rural workforce and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of rural New Zealanders”.
RHAĀNZ says the findings of the government’s own Interim Health and Disability System Review further reinforce it’s call for this fresh approach, with the report’s clear summation that rural communities are currently forced to make do with a level of service accessibility described as “simply unacceptable”.
Dr Henry says RHAĀNZ members were heartened by the governments response to this, and five other key rural health priorities, which were presented to the Minister of Health, fellow coalition government ministers and MP’s, as well as opposition MP’s at Parliament today.
“It was a privilege to be granted such a generous hearing to discuss our concerns and potential solutions to pressing rural health issues” says Dr Henry. “Health Minister David Clark indicated he was interested in exploring the Rural Health Commissioner idea further and displayed a solid understanding of the key drivers under-pinning many of our concerns”.
Alongside calls for the Rural Health Commissioner role, RHAĀNZ delegates presented five further urgent policy “calls to action” at parliament today, all identified at yesterday’s RuralFest meeting.
- Addresssing the Rural Health Workforce Crisis. RHAĀNZ proposes the development of a Rural Health Workforce Strategy to tackle the longstanding and unique challenges and realities of recruiting and retaining a fit-for-purpose workforce to ensure equity of access to healthcare and well-being for all rural people.
- Greater Recognition of the role of Rural Hospitals in Healthcare Delivery. RHAĀNZ proposes the development of a Rural Hospital Strategy to provide guidance for the ongoing role of rural hospitals as the hub of health and wellbeing within the rural communities they serve.
- Ensuring Safe and Reliable Maternity Services for Rural Women. RHAĀNZ proposes that the government acts to prevent the closure of any further primary maternity units (PMU’s) in rural areas (6 have been shut in the past 5 years). RHAĀNZ would like barriers to cross-agency record sharing removed and for the proposed Rural Health Workforce Strategy to address the significant challenges currently facing midwifery workforce recruitment and retention.
- Equitable Distribution of Government Investment in Mental Health and Wellbeing. RHAĀNZ would like a commitment that rural people will benefit from the government’s significant investment into mental health services. It would like a commitment from government that it’s Rural Proofing Policy underpins the actions and values io the new Mental Health Commission and that the Policy is applied to the development of all future mental health services.
- Using Technology to Enhance Access to Health Services. RHAĀNZ proposes that local internet service providers retain access to their current GURL radio spectrums to enable equitable access to technologically-based health services as well as life-saving mobile coverage. RHAĀNZ also proposes the establishment of a network of mobile diagnostic vehicles equipped to deliver tests such as ultrasound, echocardiography, stress exercise and potentially CT, to enable timely and equitable access to diagnosis for rural patients living at a distance from major hospitals.