Saturday, December 2, 2023

Admin absurdity is driving Clutha’s health staff away

Neal Wallace
Community-owned healthcare provider Clutha Health First is typical of the frustrations faced by rural health providers.
Clutha Health First manager Sharon Mason says she is getting disturbing feedback from overseas candidates for GP posts, who say they are concerned about the state of New Zealand health.
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On one side of the Clutha Health First hospital hallway, the nurses qualify for the pay parity settlement, worth between $16,000 and $20,000 per person.

Such are the complexities of that government agreement, however, that on the other side of the hall nurses who have a different job description do not.

“It beggars belief,” concludes Clutha Health First manager Sharon Mason.

Such are the frustrations of managing a rural hospital with its funding limitations and difficulties in recruiting staff.

But Mason said the consequences go well beyond eye-rolling, potentially leading to the loss of valued and irreplaceable staff members.

The community-owned healthcare provider was formed in 1998 after the district lost its hospital as part of nationwide consolidation of services.

Now owned by a trust, Clutha Health First (CHF) holds contracts with Health NZ, ACC and primary care providers, employing 100 staff offering 14 clinical beds as part of hospital, community, primary and general practitioner health services it provides to about 17,000 people in the South Otago district.

It offers a range of community services, including maternity, radiography, laboratory, physiotherapy, and surgical bus and outpatient services.

In the 2021-22 year CHF admitted 409 people to its inpatient ward, gave after-hours or emergency care to 2217 people, assisted 44 women giving birth and administered chemotherapy to 124 people.

Mason said the current perilous state of health reflects decades of underinvestment.

After a career in health administration, Mason spent the past few years in another sector, and on her return to health was surprised at how much further it had deteriorated.

In addition to increasing funding, Mason said rural health needs to be identified and promoted as a speciality area of medicine.

Clutha is seeking two extra GPs and Mason said feedback from potential candidates overseas is that they are concerned about the state of New Zealand health – even though the United Kingdom’s NHS is also facing challenges.

“They are asking ‘Why would be jump out of the fry pan and into the fire?’” said Mason.

“They have read stories about the state of the NZ health system and are asking why would they swap?”

The consideration is not so much the money, but the working environment.

A new and current risk is uncertainty about the health reforms, accentuated by the high and regular turnover of government officials, requiring sector groups to constantly put their case.

“The risk is there are so many changes and turnover of staff among Health NZ at the moment. The challenge is the ensure the intellectual knowledge is not lost,” Mason said.