New measures for rural health worker shortage

Plans for a School of Rural Medicine have been scrapped, with the Government announcing a range of alternative measures to address the shortage of health workers in the rural sector.

The previous government had received bids for a School of Rural Medicine. However, no money had been allocated for the school, which would have cost up $250 million to set up and operate.

Instead, the Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Government will use a series of initiatives to improve the supply of doctors, nurses and midwives working in rural New Zealand.

"It's widely known and accepted that we face challenges attracting and retaining health professionals in some of our smaller communities," he said.

"We need to make our rural health workforce more sustainable," said Dr Clark.

In his announcement, he said just training more undergraduate doctors is not the answer. 

Health Minister, David Clark.
Health Minister, David Clark. Photo credit: Getty

"We need a more comprehensive approach to attract, support and sustain the health professionals that care for rural people," he said.

Initiatives announced to address the rural health worker shortage include:

- Changing the training funding mix so that a greater proportion of GP training places go to rural trainees

- Putting greater investment in professional development for rural primary health care nurses and midwives 

- Extending rural inter-professional education programmes 

- Improving the use of technology for professional rural support

Minister for Rural Communities Damien O'Connor is welcoming the measures, saying a strong health workforce is vital for the wellbeing of rural communities.

"Rural New Zealand needs to know that health services will be there when they need them," he said.

"I welcome Minister Clark's commitment to ensuring we have a sustainable rural health workforce, and will continue to work alongside him to deliver this," said Mr O'Connor.