RURAL SPECIALIST HEALTH SERVICES IN CRISIS
Rural health overall is in crisis in our region. The Government’s plan to address this crisis is to replace the 20 District Health Boards with a crown organisation, Health New Zealand, through its Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill which comes into effect on 1 July 2022.
The Minister of Health Andrew Little’s sudden introduction of an amendment to his Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill at the very last minute called a "Rural Health Strategy", demonstrates the urgent need for addressing the inequalities of our rural health workforce.
The Minister has previously been quoted as saying that his "Government is committed to building a new national health system so all New Zealanders can get the health care they need no matter who they are or where they live."
Any rural health strategy must recognise that rural communities and the rural health care workforce, including midwives, nurses and the aged care sector, have unique challenges.
I recently met with the NZ Aged Care Association where they cited underinvestment by the Government and a lack of policy or funding mechanisms to increase the supply of care beds to meet increasing demand and complexity of needs, as big issues for the sector. Another priority issue that needs addressing is the turnover of Registered Nurses (RNs) of 48 per cent (an increase of 15 per cent since December 2019), and of caregivers (26 per cent).
With 2,200 FTE nursing vacancies currently across New Zealand, one proposed solution could be a focus on encouraging graduates, experienced RNs and Nursing Practitioner interns to view aged residential care as a desirable career choice.
These shortages also affect people needing specialist services, like cancer treatment.
Some cancer patients wait excessive times to be seen by a specialist, and the funding for cancer services has not kept up with demand.
Just like the Southland Charity Hospital, the Cancer Society has had to turn to seek donations to enable them to continue caring for patients in their care.
I have also started a fundraising campaign for the Cancer Society to try and raise as much money as I can to highlight their plight. Should I manage to raise more than $1,000, I intend to jump out of a plane to show my support to those living with cancer and create a future with less cancer in our society. You can follow my journey at https://jumpforcancer.org.nz/joseph-mooney-mp.
While I welcome the Government coming to the table by including a 'rural health strategy' in their thinking, any such strategy must provide pathways to grow our rural health workforce and sufficiently fund all services to ensure good health outcomes for our local communities.
The re-opening of the ski fields this month will be a huge relief for many businesses in the snow industry. Not only will it bring much-needed tourism dollars to our region, I am sure that like me, many of you can’t wait to get out there and enjoy the slopes too!
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