Virtual rural health school plan unaffected by Govt move

A proposal by the University of Otago and other providers to create a virtual school for rural health remains very much alive despite the Government killing off an alternative school of rural medicine this week.

The lead article in last week’s edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal featured a proposal, driven by the University of Otago, University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology (AUT), for a virtual rural health campus.

On Wednesday, Health Minister David Clark announced the Government would not support a Waikato University initiative — which dated from the term of the previous National-led government — to establish a $300 million school of rural medicine.

However, Otago public health professor Peter Crampton said Dr Clark’s statement did not affect the virtual campus proposal, and all partners involved remained "in it for the long term".

Prof Crampton was one of the authors of the NZMJ article.

It proposed setting up a community of health professional teachers and researchers in rural areas, and use virtual technology to educate students and undertake research in rural communities.

"The University of Otago remains committed to the collaborative proposal for a National Interprofessional School of Rural Health," Prof Crampton said.

"The difficulties of attracting and retaining rural health professionals are well known and we are committed to working collaboratively with our partners, including rural communities, to address these issues to help improve New Zealand’s health system," he said.

In recent years rural practices have struggled to attract staff, with resulting drops in health statistics in country areas.

This week Dr Clark said he had asked the Ministry of Health to work on projects to tackle access to health services in rural areas.

"By itself, just training more undergraduate doctors is not the answer," Dr Clark said.

"We need a more comprehensive approach to attract, support and sustain the health professionals that care for rural people."

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