It’s the exhaustion, the lack of fight, that is most obvious to Dr Shane Reti when he meets with his former rural general practitioner colleagues.
The National Party’s health spokesperson is unequivocal when he says the health system is in crisis, saying he is reiterating what those at the coal face tell him.
Several years ago health professionals were angry. Now there is what he called “a sense of resigned desperation”.
Reti, who worked as a rural GP in Northland, said not only is there a shortage of rural health professionals, but those working there are exhausted, they don’t feel valued and are underfunded.
As a result, some areas do not have after-hours care or a formal emergency response system.
Reti acknowledged a long-term solution will take time to implement but said there are some immediate steps available now.
The party has announced that if elected it will wipe $22,500 off student loans for nurses and midwives if they commit to work in New Zealand for at least five years.
Reti said another option is to extend the scope of practice or tasks that nurse practitioners, paramedics and pharmacists can perform to ease pressure on GPs.
“Those people are already there,” he said.
While not ready to release his party’ health policy, Reti said it will address three areas: workforce, targets and funding.
While communities cry out for GPs, Reti said, there are about 100 foreign-trained doctors driving taxis in Auckland who have passed their medical competency exams.
They still need two years of hospital supervision, but Reti is bemused that space has not been found to train this staffing resource or changes made to provide another training pathway.
Similarly he said the midwifery shortage needs to be addressed.
Last September, he said, he asked Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall if there was a midwifery workforce crisis in the regions, to which she answered no.
Reti said that is an example of the minister being “out of touch” with the issues facing her portfolio.
While delighted the government is committed to a rural health strategy, Reti said it was only added after he tabled a supplementary order paper (SOP) 90 minutes before the final reading of the proposed legislation.
To decline its inclusion, Reti said, the government would have had to vote down the SOP, a politically sensitive action to take.
The government is now required to take action on rural health.
“It requires them to do something. They can’t just ignore it.”
Reti said the government’s decision to abandon targets for treating patients is wrong and would be reinstated by a National-led government.
While not elaborating his party’s on funding intentions, Reti said spending $486 million on reforming the health sector when frontline staff are under such pressure is not sensible.