By: Jason Walls

Health Minister David Clark has responded to criticism levelled against the Government for scrapping plans for a third New Zealand medical school in the Waikato.

He told the Herald simply training more doctors won’t solve all the problems in the medical sector.

“We were not convinced that a competitive process to establish an entirely new rural medical school was the best way to address workforce sustainability issues.”

Yesterday, Clark announced the Government won’t go ahead with plans made by the previous Government to establish a School of Rural Medicine at Waikato University.

Otago and Auckland Universities are the only two medical schools in New Zealand.
Ross Lawrenson, a health professor at Waikato University and also a member of the Waikato DHB, expressed his disappointment at the news.

He also called on the Government to do more to ensure additional medical professionals were being trained.

But Clark said the School of Rural Medicine was not the best way to ensure this would happen.

“Just training more undergraduate doctors will not address all these issues,” he said.
“We need a suite of measures to make rural healthcare a more attractive and sustainable career option. That’s what we are focused on.”

He said there were a “whole range” of factors that make it hard to attract medical staff to the regions.

These include a lack of support, difficulties getting locum cover for professional development and holidays, fewer opportunities for partners and children and limited access to professional development.

“We need to see a number of parties [DHBs, iwi, educators, clinicians, local government etc] working together to find sustainable solutions.”

National was quick to criticise Clark for his decision yesterday.

Health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said the choice is further proof that the Minister – and his Government – “are marginalising rural New Zealanders”.

Instead of the school, Clark said the Government had other plans to boost medical professionals in the regions.

These include changing the training funding mix so that a greater proportion of general practitioner (GP) training places go to rural trainees.

Clark also said the Government would also put greater investment into professional development for rural primary health care nurses and midwives and would extend rural inter-professional education programmes.

But the minister has yet to provide specific details on the Government’s plans.
Woodhouse said these initiatives weren’t good enough.

“The sort of initiatives that the minister has mentioned, such as rural inter-professional education systems and technology for professional rural support, is nothing more than business as usual in the rural health sector and it’s what National had already been doing in Government.”

But Clark pointed the finger back at National for not doing enough for New Zealand’s rural communities when it was in Government.

He said National’s approach did not bring educators, clinicians, iwi, DHBs and local Government together.

Meanwhile, Woodhouse called out the Government for downgrading the Lumsden Maternity Clinic.

In August, the Southern District Health Board cut birthing services from the Lumsden clinic – a town to the north of Invercargill.

Clark put the blame for the closure on the DHB.

“The Lumsden Maternity Hub decision was taken by the Southern DHB as part of a wider review [which involved clinical experts] of maternity services,” he said.

“I would note that new maternity facilities in Wanaka and Te Anau were established in the region as part of that.”

Source: NZ Herald

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