Coronavirus: Urban doctors, nurses to boost struggling rural practices

Many of New Zealand's rural practices rely on a very small number of healthcare professionals.
Many of New Zealand's rural practices rely on a very small number of healthcare professionals. Photo credit: Getty

Medical professionals in urban centres are rallying to help rural communities who may struggle to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is concern from the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network the outbreak will have a serious impact on rural New Zealanders ability to get the medical care they need compared to people who live in urban centres. 

It is working closely with rural healthcare practices to make sure they have the staff and resources they need to care for their patients. 

Chief executive, Dalton Kelly, said there was already a pool of medical staff who are ready and able to help out across rural areas if things get worse. 

It was also receiving offers of help from urban healthcare professionals whose main jobs have slowed right down as surgical procedures are cancelled and the number of patient consultations in practices has significantly reduced.

"It's a perverse outcome that in the middle of a pandemic outbreak we have a surplus of primary healthcare professionals in our cities. 

"We have a real opportunity to use their skills and good-will to look after our rural communities where COVID-19 is likely to cause real challenges to the smaller medical teams," said Kelly.

"Many of New Zealand's rural practices rely on a very small number of healthcare professionals and that number is dropping every year."

Helping rural practices access the skills and expertise of urban doctors, nurses and practice managers would help ensure rural communities and general practices get through this pandemic in good shape, he said.

Kelly said he was already aware of rural health professionals catching COVID-19 and that having a significant impact on a region's healthcare service.

"This morning I have emailed every rural general practice in New Zealand inviting them to let us know if they need additional staff to get through this time. 

"We are in a fortunate position that we have a fantastic pool of highly-skilled healthcare professionals well and truly prepared to travel and support our rural communities during this period."

The group was also in discussion with the Ministry of Health seeking further financial support to reduce the extra costs for rural practices.

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