Rural Health Alliance revitalised

Reports of the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand's demise have proved premature and the advocacy organisation has restructured and refocused on its work to improve the wellbeing of people who live outside the major cities.

RHAANZ put itself in self-described "hibernation" in mid-year after it failed to secure financial support from the government.

A registered charity, RHAANZ had done considerable work on rural mental health and suicide prevention, as well as and supporting the recruitment and retention of rural health professionals.

It had also drafted the Rural Health Road Map - a plan to improve health outcomes for country-dwellers - and the alliance and the road map were revived through a desire to see the work continued, its new executive director Marie Daly said.

"We held the Rural Fest conference last month, which was a bit of a test to see what the energy was ... I don't think the we set the process up to be focused enough on specific solutions last time around, whereas this time I was really clear on what we needed to hold ourselves and government accountable for in 12 months time."

With renewed support and a restructured organisation, the alliance has created a new Rural Health Road Map, identifying five key issues:

- Create a proper, single definition of "rural".

- Ensure the rural health workforce is sustainable.

- Review funding models for health services.

- Have the Minister of Health's letter of expectations to DHBs include "rural-proofing" of funding for rural health needs.

- Improve mental health and wellbeing.

"The actions in the road map are quite specific and already the Rural Hospitals Network has swung in behind the letter of expectation one," Ms Daly said.

"The opportunity is there for members to take actions now, which I think are more effective and accountable and give greater focus to the organisation."

Rural health issues are prominent in the southern region, in which 40% of the population is classed as rural.

"Research and data is the starting point and the key thing about that is that there is no proper definition of the word rural," Ms Daly said.

"It sounds like a silly thing to do, but for example we couldn't tell you if health outcomes are better in rural or urban New Zealand because we couldn't define who was `rural' based on their National Health Index number.

"We tried to research rural suicide but ran into problems over who was rural and who wasn't - I live on the outskirts of Masterton, I have a rural delivery number, but I am 3km away from a good base hospital."

Proper definitions would mean help could be targeted to the regions which most needed it, and a similar exercise had been carried out in both Scotland and Australia, Ms Daly said.



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