GP and academic hails rural health bus idea

Branko Sijnja
Branko Sijnja
The possibility of a health bus providing travelling medical services could only spell good news for rural Otago communities, the head of the University of Otago's rural medical immersion programme says.

Ideally, however, it would be a starting point to get patients in touch with a GP.

The idea has been floated by the National Party along with other schemes such as a new visa for primary industries and tougher biosecurity penalties.

Balclutha doctor and university programme head Branko Sijnja said sharemilkers or shearers travelling through rural districts for work might be missing out on visits to the doctor.

A health bus would be particularly handy when it came to keeping track of vaccinations for children, and measuring things like cholesterol and blood sugar.

"Of course, what we need badly is actually more nurse practitioners and GPs," he said.

"In a way, I think the potential is that it can pick people up and then, hopefully, refer them to a doctor in the area."

The rural immersion programme had been running since 2007 and 20 students came through the voluntary programme a year, although Dr Sijnja hoped that would soon increase.

The programme had bases in Westland, Southland, Clutha, Tararua, Wairarapa and Marlborough. Students were chosen based on their passion for working rurally, and on whether they had a self-directed learning style that would suit working in a rural community.

The issue was getting GPs out into the areas, Dr Sijnja said, rather than a lack of support when they were there.

For many doctors, the problem was finding work for their spouse in a rural community.

There was "no question" Otago needed more doctors. However, the situation was not as bad as it had been a decade ago. There were two vacancies in Balclutha at present it would be good to fill.

It was difficult to gauge the effect the programme had had because doctors spent more than a decade at medical school, working compulsory years in a hospital and then undergoing specialist training before they could become a GP.

A discussion document including the ideas is being released at agricultural event Fieldays. It includes 23 ideas and proposals open to public feedback.

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