Health Minister admits filling rural GP positions 'very challenging'

  • 23/02/2016
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman admits filling doctor positions in rural New Zealand is “very challenging”.

A survey by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has found 37 percent of rural practices had a vacancy in 2014 compared with 42 percent of urban practices, but that vacancies in rural practices took longer to fill.

Dr Alan Kenny of Tokoroa is struggling to find a young GP despite offering a generous $400,000-plus salary and half of his practice.

He told The New Zealand Herald there was a “huge problem” in many medical school students coming from wealthy families in the Auckland area and not wanting to move to more rural areas.

Dr Coleman says the Government is making efforts to address the problem, but results will take time and they could be doing more.

“Voluntary bonding has been very successful and there’s a big emphasis in medical schools on introducing young doctors and students to rural areas, but it takes a while for those students and young doctors to come through the pipeline. We’ve got to continue to do more, it’s an issue that is very challenging. Internationally, everyone has found staffing medical centres in rural areas a challenge,” Dr Coleman told Newshub.

“The idea is to introduce people early, they get roots in a community and that makes it much more attractive for them to work there long term. There has always been an emphasis on attracting people from a wide range of backgrounds, geographic areas into medical school, so we’ve got a clear strategy around it. It is continuing to be difficult to fill some of these positions in rural New Zealand.”

Dr Coleman says the voluntary bonding scheme has been in place since 2009 with 100 doctors going through it and $23 million being spent across health professions.