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Rural GP shortage 'far from resolved'

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/05/2017

The Government might be trumpeting recent numbers that show an increase in doctors and nurses heading to work in rural areas, but the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network paint a grimmer picture.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Tuesday that figures showing 39 graduate doctors and 19 trainee GPs registered for the Government's Voluntary Bonding Scheme that will put them in communities that struggle to attract doctors was "making a real difference".

Those on the scheme receive three annual payments after a bonded period of three years, to help pay their student loan or to top up their income.

A total of 364 health professionals have singed up for the 2017 scheme and 4228 since it began in 2009.

"This means more New Zealanders will get the treatment they need, closer to home," Dr Coleman said.

However, NZRGPN spokesman Rob Olsen says while the scheme is contributing to a chronic shortage of doctors in rural and remote areas, the demand to recruit is still intense.

The VBS was a piece in the puzzle but was not a panacea to the workforce issues of rural general practice, he told NZ Newswire.

Factors such as isolation, regular work out of hours and schooling and employment for families continue to be barriers, he said.

"Its scope and uptake has improved over the years, with nursing being added to the list of specialties in 2014, [but] perhaps the Government has to look more closely at the incentives offered to make it more attractive to graduates.

"The numbers the Government is quoting in its latest figures probably paint too rosy a picture of the workforce woes of rural general practice [and] there needs to be a distinction between rural hospital and general practice.

"Remember also that grads can't immediately go out and work unsupervised in general practice."

Olsen said proposals from Otago, Auckland and Waikato universities to have medical and rural health training schools was welcomed.

The West Coast, Hawke's Bay, North Canterbury and Kaikoura were areas rural GPs were badly needed, he said.

Workforce data from 2015 showed 44 per cent of GPs nationally are set to retire within the next decade, he said, adding extra pressure to the rural GP issue.

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