Rakaia doctor Sue Fowlie said her staff are knackered.
The toil of covering staff vacancies, financially balancing a business squeezed by tight budgets and the pressure of meeting the needs of their Mid Canterbury patients with limited resources are taking a toll on her 15 colleagues.
She agreed with Fiona Bolden, the chair of the Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network, that rural health services are collapsing from staff shortages and a system that doesn’t recognise the needs of rural communities.
“I’m in my late forties and I don’t want to continue to work like this,” said Fowlie. “It’s not what I came to NZ to do.
“It’s a job I love but at the moment it’s not much fun.”
Her concerns and pressures are shared by her staff, who are trying to balance the needs of their community with family and lifestyle.
“They’re getting knackered,” said Fowlie.
“It’s not enough for people to love what they do anymore, they’re burnt out.”
She needs to employ two nurses, a GP and an administrator.
Replacing staff with those recruited offshore is costly.
The recruiters of a successful candidate are paid a fee and the employment package has to be competitive with urban practices.
Fowlie said government funding needs to be aligned to primary health needs, which will reduce pressure on hospitals.
Rural patients tend to be older and their illnesses or injuries more complex, but funding for GP visits does not cover the extra time needed for consults.
Fowlie said rural Canterbury GPs are caught up in staffing and funding issues facing hospitals.
She said GP referrals that would previously have been accepted by specialists are now being rejected and patients sent back to their GPs for further consultation and tests.
This adds cost and workload to overburdened practices and frustration to patients.
More GPs need to be trained, and working in rural practices must be made more appealing through a better-managed workload and funding.
Along with the primary health care focus, more funding is needed for mental and ancillary specialist health services.
“That will make a difference. It’s shifting the balance of care to more of a primary focus, which will keep people out of hospital.”
She also sees an opportunity for nurses to upskill to perform some tasks currently done by GPs.
Fowlie was raised on a farm and loves the rural lifestyle, but she said her naturally positive demeanour is being challenged by current issues.