Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Election 2023: Improving rural health services

Neal Wallace
Farmers Weekly asks New Zealand’s six biggest parties to spell out their policies for the primary sector.
Another focus is to provide more preventative health interventions, such as screening, and to promote health and wellbeing.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Farmers Weekly asked the six parties currently represented in Parliament four questions. Five replied. Te Pati Māori did not respond. 

Today’s question: What will your party do to improve rural health, including mental health services?

Labour
•  In July, the Labour Government released its long-term vision for health, where all New Zealanders can live long, healthy lives and unfair differences in outcomes are a thing of the past. The Pae Ora Healthy Futures Strategies set the direction for the health sector over the next decade. 

•  The New Zealand Health Strategy addresses the health of all New Zealanders and sits alongside five population-specific strategies, including a Rural Health Strategy. This is the first time rural communities have had their own health strategies.

•  The strategy will address change and underlying barriers which may have held back progress by: 

– Giving people, whānau and communities greater control over decisions about their health and the design of services.

– Developing services that adapt to people’s health needs and are delivered closer to their homes and communities. 

– Developing a sustainable, diverse, skilled and confident future workforce.

– Creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

– Making sure we’re prepared for any future shocks that come our way and making the very best of our resources.

– Collaborating across sector and government to drive the right outcomes.

National
National forced a rural health strategy into Pae Ora with an statement of purpose that Labour initially refused. Health workforce is a key issue for rural health and National will build a third medical school with a focus on rural health and primary care. 

The recent Geographic Classification for Health will bring accuracy to rural health data, which is important for resourcing. National will explore rural health emergency responses such as PRIME as part of a wide-ranging after-hours plan.

National will enable local providers already doing good work in our rural communities to scale up through co-investment via the Mental Health Innovation Fund. 

National will also promote local solutions for local needs as rural areas often face different mental health challenges that requires different solutions to urban areas.

ACT
ACT raised concerns in Parliament last year about the lack of recognition for rural New Zealand in the government’s health reforms. As a result the government supported ACT’s proposal to develop a Rural Health Strategy addressing the needs of the 750,000 New Zealanders who live rurally or remotely. 

In government, ACT would aim to deliver on this strategy to ensure greater access to health care. For mental health care we plan to take existing funding and re-allocate it to a world-class commissioning agency that assesses individual needs and contracts the best providers for a person’s therapy and care. It would put people at the heart of the system.

Green
We’ve committed to several actions to improve access to healthcare for New Zealanders, including in rural areas.

This includes:

• Free dental for all, including mobile dental vans and funding for community clinics, including marae, so no one has to travel long distances to look after their teeth, and a plan to train the next generation of dentists through lifting the cap on training placements.

• Ensuring public healthcare services are accessible and meet the needs of everyone in Aotearoa – including progressively expanding the health services offered through the public system.

• Implementing the recommendations of the Every Life Matters – He Tapu te Oranga o ia Tangata suicide-prevention strategy.

• Expanding free mental health services to all communities so everyone can access support when they need it, including expanding youth services like Piki, Mana Ake and Youth One Stop Shops throughout Aotearoa, and dedicated support for postnatal mental health.

• Increasing the number of mental health professionals we train at all levels in Aotearoa to reduce caseloads and improve the professional support available for our mental health workforce.

New Zealand First
Equitable access to primary healthcare is a huge issue for rural areas and a cornerstone to ensuring a prosperous future for rural communities. We would attract new graduates to provincial areas with a bonding scheme that would see them have their student loans written off over five years’ service. Once they have settled, they are less likely to leave.

Make taking up health workforce jobs in provincial areas a targeted priority for immigration settings. 

We would lift funding for St Johns up to 95% of their operating budget and increase support for the rescue helicopter service. These are vital services in rural New Zealand and cannot be compromised by lack of funding or capacity. 

When last in government we were proud of the $1.9bn in long-overdue investment in mental health. It beggars belief that we have a total of five additional mental health beds to show for this investment. This whole process has been locked up in bureaucracy and box ticking. The priority is to get funding and support to those organisations that are doing great work on the ground, the likes of Mike King’s I am Hope charity, Farmstrong and the Rural Support Trust. 

Of course the best thing we can do is settle things down and bring in a more pragmatic regulatory regime that doesn’t unnecessarily pressure farmers in the first instance.

Tomorrow we ask: What is your party’s policy to reduce agricultural greenhouse emissions?

More: Read the previous article here.

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