Rural health needs resources, plan: union

More resources and a centralised workforce plan are urgently needed to ensure health services are delivered effectively to rural areas, new research says.

Senior doctors’ union the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) commissioned the research to explore ways of addressing the inequity of access to health services and problems both recruiting and retaining doctors in rural hospitals.

Otago and Southland have six rural hospitals, at Oamaru, Maniototo, Dunstan, Queenstown, Gore and Balclutha.

Two, at Queenstown and Dunstan, are accredited for rural hospital training.

The study said that a rural hospital summit last year had strongly urged the Government to draft a co-ordinated rural health workforce plan and develop a 10-year rural health strategy.

"In ASMS’ view these proposals should be actioned to set a clear future direction that will enable rural health workforces to work together to achieve desired outcomes for rural populations."

The researchers said the current number of rural health medical specialists was insufficient to meet the serious shortfall of staff in rural hospitals, and called for targeted funding to train more.

"Given the number of New Zealanders who rely on rural hospitals, ASMS agrees that urgent priority should be given to investigating and addressing the issues affecting them, particularly workforce and funding."

Among briefing papers released last week by the Government as part of its reforms of the overall health system was one specifically on rural health.

"Rural communities often find it difficult to physically access healthcare, especially specialist and hospital care," it said.

"In some areas, it can even be hard to access basic health services and, in addition, poor internet access and digital capabilities can make it more difficult for people to manage their own care or take up options that are available to others."

The paper proposed greater use of technology such as telehealth, more support for rural health professionals, and greater consistency and clarity of access for rural patients to hospital and specialist services.

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