Fighting fires to get to work

A couple of weeks ago RGPN Chair Fiona Bolden had an interesting commute to work when the main road to Whangamata was blocked by a fire. She describes her experience and the challenges faced by rural health practitioners in their daily lives.

“That day I was on my way to work as usual, it’s normally a 14km drive from where I live, but shortly after I got along the main road I came across a traffic jam (which is incredibly rare here). One of the volunteer fire crew told me the road was completely closed due to a fire in an orchard that had blown across into forestry area. The road was completely impassable and they had called in fire crews to help put the fire out but it was anticipated to take at least five hours. There is no other way into Whangamata from that direction and the only other option is to drive all the way around via Thames and Paeroa which could take between two to three hours depending on traffic.”

“I did initially think I may be able to work virtually from home but there was no power so no internet. My partner was at home and he has a boat, we knew if we hurried we could just make it across the Wharakawa bar, but it was pretty touch and go as the bar is very shallow, the sands have moved and rocks are uncovered. Lucky for us there wasn’t much of a swell that day.”

“I have taken boats to work before – sometimes on call outs it’s the only way you can get to people. I know other rural practitioners have also done this and some may do it as their main form of travel. We know as rural GPs that it’s very important for us to get to work as there are not enough other people to cover the work and our patients have often booked sometime in advance to see us and will also have had their own challenges trying to get there. It definitely feels good to have a few transport options as not getting to work isn’t really an option in rural where workforce is always working to its maximum capacity.”

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