Rural health services

High GP turnover and low immunisation rates are both factors affecting health in a rural community.

A team of our Nursing students found that two very different health care needs in the Teviot Valley, Otago.  The first is the very low immunisation rate amongst children. Immunisation can protect people against harmful infections, which can cause serious complications, including death. It is one of the most effective, and cost-effective medical interventions to prevent disease. Likely factors contributing to a low rate of immunisation in a community include a fear of needles, lack of information about immunisation, and a belief that the benefits of immunisation don't outweigh the risks. 

To address this issue the students prepared a poster with questions and answers about immunisation, which they have provided to the Roxburgh Medical Centre for display in their waiting room (see below). They also produced a smaller version which was published in the Teviot Bulletin.

The second health issue they identified was the high turnover amongst local GPs. This is not unique to the Teviot Valley but is an issue in many rural areas n New Zealand. There are many reasons for the high turnover of rural GPs, including having a high workload with no backup, and a perception that there are a lack of opportunities for professional development and career progression. The students also investigated what initiatives have been tried previously and how well they worked.

They suggest a good solution would be to have more rural practices led by Nurse Pracitioners. Research shows that nurses stay longer, are easier to recruit to rural practices, and provide higher patient satisfaction with no different in patient outcomes. The students sent a submission to Damien O'Connor, the Minister for Rural Communities, seeking more Nurse Practitioner scholarships to enable nurses in rural areas to gain the skills, qualification and scope of practice they need to lead rural health centres. The Minister replied thanking them for their submission and recognising both the retention issue and the skill and value of nurses. He was interested in the scholarships idea and has forwarded their suggestion to the Minister of Health.

Image credit: minjungkim, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0

September 2019