Rural health charity to ‘hibernate’

Damien O’Connor
Damien O’Connor
Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand is to go in to "hibernation", but chairman Martin London is pessimistic about the organisation’s prospects of survival.

"Not all animals wake up from hibernation," Dr London said yesterday  after an urgent board meeting which resolved to put the organisation — which works to improve rural health services — in to abeyance.

"We’re devastated with the situation and rather bewildered with the Government’s response."

A registered charity, RHAANZ has been seeking government funding to continue its work in fields such as suicide prevention and supporting the recruitment and retention of rural health professionals.

It met with Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor on Thursday, but failed to secure any guarantee of future financial support.

"We have had to let go our two principal staff ... although our projects manager will continue in to June to continue contracts which need completion," Dr London, of Christchurch, said.

"We will need to regroup and consider what options we might have for the future, and consult with our membership."

RHAANZ has advocated across a range of rural health issues and last year released the Rural Health Road Map — an action plan designed to improve the wellbeing of the estimated 600,000 people living in country areas, and ensure their access to health services.

"We feel this is just another kick in the guts for rural health," Dr London said.

"We think the road map is a terrific document, which has been collectively pulled together, prioritised, and some not-huge actions proposed, and we’re happy to lead that.

"If we don’t lead it, who else? Is it going to be done sporadically by different agencies in an unco-ordinated way? I have no idea."

Royal NZ College of GPs president Tim Malloy said he was personally saddened by the decision, and feared much of RHAANZ’s good work — especially in the mental health field — would now be lost.

"It’s disappointing for such an organisation, which clearly has a a major role to play across the whole of rural New Zealand, to be compromised by funding issues of this nature," Dr Malloy said.

"I hope the sector groups which made up the RHAANZ can continue to support the concept in the future, but in an ideal world it would have been sustained by central government funding."

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