Rural health sector wants equitable more staff


It is time to talk about your health.

This week marks the start of Your Health, a series where we will put the physical and mental wellbeing of our readers in Central Otago and Wanaka under the microscope.

There are key issues facing our rapidly growing region, maternity services are under pressure and at the opposite end of the age demographic spectrum, demand for palliative care is also increasing.

This week we look at the pressure placed on the Primary Response in Medical Emergencies service alongside gaps identified in the health services in the region.

Mental health, the availability of services when they are needed and the reluctance of blokes to go to the doctor will be a focus in the series as we go forward.

In its recent Budget Policy Statement, the Government announced physical and mental wellbeing would be one of its priorities.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson indicated supporting improved health outcomes for all New Zealanders was a key area.

We asked several providers and workers within the industry: “If you had unlimited access to the Ministry of Health’s budget, what would you spend that money on in Central Otago?”

Those who responded said there was a need for more funding for rural health and mental health services and better pay for staff.


Central Otago Health Services Ltd chief executive Kathryn de Luc said the most important thing was an increase in mental health services in the community.

She would also like to see:

  • Additional local outpatient services provided by visiting specialists or increased telemedicine options.
  • An increase in respite care facilities/carers to people to stay safely in their homes longer.
  • Additional residential care beds so whanau do not have to travel out of the area to visit their loved ones.
  • Additional rehab services/support services for children with disabilities/neurodiversity and their whanau.
  • Research into the inequity of health access and outcomes for people living in rural communities.
  • Improved career progression pathways for clinical staff practising in rural communities.


Former Rural Women New Zealand health spokeswoman Margaret Pittaway, of Lowburn, said if there was the luxury of extra money for the area it should be spent across all health services, including maternity services, aged care, mental health, oncology services and preventive medicine.

“Health services realistically will never have the massive funding to give the care that we would all like in an ideal world.”


Dr Helen Paterson, of Dunedin, launched a purpose-built mobile clinic designed to provide health services for women living in rural areas in Otago and Southland last year.

She would like to see contraception and sexual health services provided to those women at the same cost as Family Planning services.

“I also want to see free weekly specialist obstetrics appointments, and pessaries for prolapses to be community-funded free.

“I would also like to see first trimester miscarriage care and early abortion care.”


Dunstan Hospital rural doctor Garry Nixon said while Central Otago was reasonably well served with community based services, he would like to see improved access to comprehensive primary care throughout the region.

There were several gaps that needed plugging, including some smaller practices’ abilities to attract and retain staff.

In addition, providing equitable access to after hours acute care throughout Central Otago was important.

Patients paid a fee for after-hours care at Dunstan Hospital but in bigger towns it was free.

There was a shortage of long-term residential care beds, particularly at hospital level.

Some older people, many of whom had spent their lives in one area, often had to move away from family and friends to a bigger town to receive the care.


Primary Response in Medical Emergencies nurse Marg Eckhoff said she would like to see more funding for isolated areas such as Roxburgh and Ranfurly to attract more Prime nurses with better pay; having them working would allow solo GPs time off with adequate cover.