By: Yvonne O’Hara
Unfilled general practice vacancies, an ageing rural GP workforce, half of whom were expecting retire in the next 10 years, and a lack of facilities to train their replacements are issues facing the rural sector.
New Zealand Rural General Practice Network (NZRGPN) chief executive Dalton Kelly outlined the issues in a briefing paper for the Minister of Health, David Clark, last week.
”We have given Mr Clark a full briefing, and he is up with the play,” Mr Kelly said.
The NZRGPN represents about 90% of New Zealand’s rural practices and practitioners, and one of its core roles is to support rural health practitioners and ensure there is continuing access to healthcare for rural communities.
Mr Clark spoke at the National Rural Health Conference in Auckland last week.
Mr Dalton said the network was increasingly concerned about the number of GP vacancies in rural practices, with 47 unfilled at the moment. More than a quarter of rural practices had unfilled vacancies.
”In the old days, there used to be about 19 hot spots, [areas that had a lack of medical resources so that doctors and nurses were at risk of burnout[, but that is now down to five,” he said.
A survey carried out a couple of years ago showed that just under half of all New Zealand GPs intended to retire in the next 10 years. He said there was a need to train more doctors to fill the vacancies.
In the briefing, he said if the current challenges in accessing primary health care services in rural New Zealand were not addressed, it could ”quickly grow into a rural health crisis in which rural people would not be able to have an equitable access to primary health care”.
The network also operates the NZ Locums service, which sources locums to fill temporary and permanent vacancies in rural practices.
Mr Kelly said they had placed more than 70 people last year.
”About 39% of the medical workforce in New Zealand were trained overseas, and 51% of the rural medical workforce were trained overseas.”
Mr Kelly said the network was emphasising the need for more doctors and other health professionals to be trained as soon as possible.
He said the Government’s commitment to fund another 300 placements a year must ”ringfence some of those for rural practices and that one third of all additional placements required a commitment from them to a long-term rural placement”.
The network also urged the minister to make a decision about the two proposals to build or establish new medical schools.
Mr Kelly said high school pupils also needed clearer pathways to qualify for tertiary medical training, which meant addressing the current shortage of science teachers in rural schools.
Another concern was the shortfall of funding for rural health professionals who were part of the Primary Response in Medical Emergency.
Source: NZ Herald
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