• Wyatt Creech

"National is committed to giving certainty and security about rural health services. The GPs package released today is part and parcel of that commitment," Health Minister Wyatt Creech said today.

The GP initiatives are the next step in a consistent response to addressing the needs of rural GPs who face difficulties getting relief and support.

"We've already got a number of programmes in place to ensure rural communities receive the right health services by the right people at the right time," Mr Creech said. "There are challenges - that's why we pay a rural premium for rural hospitals, and use technology to support and improve the delivery of health care.

"This includes things like the 24 hour clinical advice Healthline, telemedicine, and teleradiology.

"We released our Rural Health Policy in July which outlines the programmes already in place and the areas where we are doing further work. It complements the Hospital Services Plan and the Roadside to Bedside emergency services plan.

"The Rural GPs package released today has come about through on the ground work with GPs, the South Island's Director of Rural Health, the Northern Consortium and health officials.

"We've all been working to get solutions to the problem and to ensure people get the health care they need. That's how our health system should work and I want the sole focus in the future to be on improving health services."


For more information: Anna Hughes(04) 4719 819 or (025) 477 987

Rural Primary Care Support Scheme - will start for some practices immediately
Onerous workload and call arrangements are cited as key reasons that make some rural practices unattractive to doctors. Some rural practices do not generate sufficient income to support a further doctor to ease workload and cover problems and this causes recruitment and retention problems (for example, Roxburgh). A guaranteed minimum income would provide confidence to people interested in establishing practices in the area.
In areas where the practice nurses would be prepared to share "on-call' rosters with GPs it would be appropriate to ensure that the practice nurse is supported with extra training and telephone advice. This extends the concept in the PRIME contracts that encourage nurses and GPs to share "on-call" rosters for ambulance emergencies.
The rural primary care support scheme extends the guaranteed minimum income arrangements to a further 10 practices so that the practices are sustainable with improved cover arrangements. The scheme will be implemented for some practices immediately. This will see urgent needs to be met in some localities. It will be put in place in others over the next six months.

Rural locum support scheme- up and running by July.
Establishment of a targeted rural locum scheme where locum agencies provide relief to GPs with onerous cover arrangements and provide cover to manage "hot spots" for example when a doctor is sick or leaves a practice to ensure service coverage and stability. The scheme is designed so that: suitable locums can be recruited to provide a reliable service to GPs and a quality service to patients and the service is affordable to those GPs who most need it

Telemedicine at Westport - by end of the year
Westport primary medical services have experienced severe recruitment difficulties and are reliant on overseas trained doctors whose registration requires them to work under supervision of a vocationally trained general practitioner. The telemedicine link up would increase flexibility of supervision arrangements, for example, from the Department of General Practice in Dunedin. It would also improve access to continuing medical education for GPs. This would improve the ability of both NZ and overseas doctors to complete vocational registration, enabling them to work independently and provide supervision to other doctors.

Further development of curriculum for rural hospital training scheme - for new academic year
The Department of General Practice, University of Otago plans to trial a new training programme to provide a formal nationally recognised qualification for medical practitioners who are generalist rural hospital doctors. These doctors require broad based specific skills which may extend beyond those of rural general practice. This will be shared with the University of Auckland.
Rural hospital doctors trained in the Rural Hospital Training Programme will reinforce rural practice by providing back up and support. The curriculum will support an integrated approach to service delivery in rural areas and may help recruitment and retention problems in rural hospitals as well as rural general practice.
A high quality rural hospital training programme will develop a career pathway for rural hospital doctors and aid recruitment and retention of doctors in rural hospitals which are an essential back up to rural general practice. The rural hospital training scheme will commence next calendar year.