Focusing on the big picture of rural health funding

Damien O’Connor
Damien O’Connor
I want to add some perspective to what has been some out-of-proportion reaction to the Government’s decision not to meet Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ’s (RHANZ) request for an extra $600,000 in funding, writes Damien O'Connor.

The Rural Health Alliance has received $250,000 annually for the past several years from the Ministry of Health and that contract is up for reconsideration in June. Discussions about that contract are continuing  and organisations are also able to access other government service contracts.

The Government is committed to a wide-ranging review of mental health services after the previous government ignored numerous pleas for help. This will include rural New Zealand’s needs.

I’m working on a rural proofing policy to ensure that any service developed by government agencies must take into consideration its delivery impact on rural communities. To suggest, as some people have, that this Government is walking away from rural communities because of the RHANZ decision is utter nonsense. I respect the work RHANZ does in advocating for rural communities and undertaking research, and have told them so on numerous occasions. However, the Government must balance what money is available to contribute across a number of rural health providers.

In the case of mental healthcare, a lot of excellent work is being done by Rural Support Trusts, Depression Helpline, Healthline, Samaritan and others, including The Resilient Farmer. Given the scale of some of the issues that the Government is finding left behind by National, we must take a considered approach to requests where they are made.

I’m unsure why, given some of the comment in the media, RHANZ did not ask for a top-up years earlier from the previous government. All I ask is that people look past some of the hysteria, largely whipped up by the National Party with ulterior motives and years of underfunding health services to explain away, to what is actually happening. Given the membership of RHANZ includes some of the most significant agribusiness organisations, in an immediate funding crisis I would expect them to support the organisation until government contracts can be secured.

My advocacy for rural health includes a considerable and careful approach to how taxpayers’ money is spent in the most effective way for rural New Zealanders.To that end I will develop my rural proofing policy, ensure the Government’s mental health inquiry includes the needs of rural New Zealand, and look for new and considered ways to meet people’s needs.

While the National Party is making noise, when push comes to shove it failed to properly fund a wide range of rural health services.

- Damien O’Connor is the Minister of Agriculture, Biosecurity, Food Safety and Rural Communities

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