Rural communities again “left in the wilderness” by the Government’s Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill

The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network (the Network) is appalled that rural communities have been “left in the wilderness” by the Pae Ora Health Futures Bill, which was recommended by the Select Committee to Parliament for a second reading today.

In its oral submission to the Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill Select Committee in January, the Network made a call for rural communities to be identified as a priority population group alongside Māori, Pacific People and the Disabled, who are already recognised.

The Network argued that if the Bill doesn’t highlight a focus on rural communities, and hold Government Agencies accountable for rural health outcomes, then the health inequities faced by rural New Zealanders will not improve.

The Bill’s purpose is to protect, promote and improve the health of all New Zealanders; and achieve equity by reducing health disparities among New Zealand’s population groups, in particular for Māori.

The Network believes these outcomes are not possible if our rural and rural Māori populations, which equates to approximately 750,000 New Zealanders, are neglected.

“The inequities in rural health outcomes are as clear as day, and are even worse for rural Māori,” says New Zealand Rural General Practice Network Chief Executive Dr Grant Davidson.

“We thought the situation was now so bad that the health of rural New Zealanders could no longer be ignored. We were obviously wrong!”

“For our voices to be ignored again is beyond disappointing and we are increasingly frustrated that rural communities are being overlooked by those with the power to effect real change.”

“Our rural population is the “breadbasket” of New Zealand representing agriculture, forestry, farming, viticulture, adventure tourism and more. They contribute over 50% of the New Zealand GDP but have been shown they are not worthy of any attention to their health outcomes!” Dr Davidson says.

“For health equity for all New Zealanders, rural communities must be acknowledged as a priority population.”

The Network notes in the report from the Select Committee that, “We were advised that specifying further strategies based on particular population groups could result in certain populations having too much or too little focus on them.”

The Network suggests that these advisors visit communities in rural and remote rural areas where people struggle to get appointments with doctors, mental health workers, midwives and other core health services.

“We wish you luck if you have a medical emergency or accident on a remote rural road and are waiting for a response from an under-funded and overworked rural GP or nurse who is on a 24/7 call roster, or wait for an ambulance that has to be dispatched from a depot 3 hours away, says Network Chair Dr Fiona Bolden.

“Rural populations are in desperate need of a lot more focus on them and we cannot wait any longer.”