Tackling rural health workforce issues

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Government will take a series of measures to improve the supply of doctors, nurses and midwives working in rural New Zealand.

“It’s widely known and accepted that we face challenges attracting and retaining health professionals in some of our smaller communities. We need to make our rural health workforce more sustainable.

“Working in rural health can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also demanding and can be isolating. We must do more to support rural health workers and make working in the regions a more attractive career choice.”

The previous government had received bids for a School of Rural Medicine but that process will not now proceed. No money had been allocated for the school, which would have cost up to a quarter of a billion dollars to set-up and operate. 

“By itself, just training more undergraduate doctors is not the answer. We need a more comprehensive approach to attract, support and sustain the health professionals that care for rural people.

“I’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work on addressing the issues of access to health services in rural areas and increasing the availability of a whole range of health practitioners in rural areas.

“We know that Australia has successfully put in place initiatives to train, support and retain its health professionals – both internationally and locally trained – and we should learn from their experience.

“To address this issue we are developing a raft of initiatives, including measures such as:

  •  Changing the training funding mix so that a greater proportion of GP training places go to rural trainees 
  •  Putting greater investment in professional development for rural primary health care nurses and midwives 
  • Extending rural inter-professional education programmes 
  • Improving the use of technology for professional rural support

“These are things we can do in the short term. The Ministry of Health is also looking urgently at longer-term solutions and will work with rural communities, iwi, local government, educators, immigration and health professionals,” says David Clark.

Minister for Rural Communities Damien O’Connor says a strong health workforce is vital for the wellbeing of rural communities.

“Rural New Zealand needs to know that health services will be there when they need them.

“I welcome Minister Clark’s commitment to ensuring we have a sustainable rural health workforce, and will continue to work alongside him to deliver this,” Damien O’Connor says.