Coronavirus: Rural academics call for reporting of COVID-19 cases by district

There's concern the current system doesn't provide enough information for rural health providers.
There's concern the current system doesn't provide enough information for rural health providers. Photo credit: Getty

Two rural health academics have joined calls for more localised reporting of COVID-19 test results to paint a better picture of where the cases are being recorded.

University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Garry Nixon and University of Waikato Professor of Population Health Ross Lawrenson are concerned the current system does not enable a clear picture for rural health providers.  

They want a move to reporting cases by district council areas as a minimum which they said would help rural healthcare providers better care for their communities.

COVID-19 cases are currently being reported by District Health Board areas, which can cover large geographical areas.

Associate Professor Garry Nixon, who is also a rural hospital specialist at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde, said unless a cluster was reported, it was not possible to tell in which part of these large areas cases were concentrated.

"This means a rural hospital or service has no way of knowing how many patients in their area are likely to deteriorate and need further medical care in coming days," said Professor Nixon.

"The pandemic demands a response at all levels, including by rural and remote communities and their services. Good data will support this response," he said.

Professor Lawrenson, a public health physician and board member of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, said they would prefer that results were reported on a regional level within DHBs.

"Reporting data on COVID-19 cases for smaller regions will make it easier for communities to understand their risk and for rural health providers and other community services to plan their response to the pandemic," said Professor Lawrenson

The pair welcomed a move by some DHBs to start reporting cases by district council area.

"While not perfect, this is a considerable improvement on reporting by DHB area and we would encourage the Ministry of Health to start reporting cases by district council areas for all of New Zealand and to consider this as the basis for community testing," said Professor Lawrenson.

"It will also be important when we want to move to community-based testing that we have a clear idea as to the way we define 'communities'.

 "District councils are still large areas and reporting at this level will not risk concerns of privacy."

 Associate Professor Nixon said New Zealand lacked a recognised system for reporting rural health data - something both he and Professor Lawrenson had highlighted in research in recent years.

 "The current pandemic highlights this deficiency in the national health intelligence system."