Rural Health Alliance deserves funds injection

April 10, 2018

The Government should not switch off life support for what has been an effective voice for the health of rural New Zealanders, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says.

Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand will find out on Thursday whether the Government has approved its case for funding of $600,000 so that it can continue its work.

"The Rural Health Alliance is essentially a district health board for rural Kiwis," Katie says. "It advocates for the 600,000 New Zealanders living in rural areas - that’s one and a half times the population of our second largest urban area, Wellington."

Core funding for the operating, leadership, advocacy and needs identification work of the Alliance has for the last five years been met by member organisations, most of them charities and membership-levy groups which are themselves finding money is very tight. The Alliance has said that model is no longer sustainable without government support.

The Alliance identifies and helps address gaps in health services in hinterland areas. Just one example has been its work - with other agencies - to upskill rural health and social service professionals in suicide prevention strategies, and run campaigns aimed at boosting the mental wellbeing of farmers and their families put under stress by drought, debt and other circumstances. It has a contract with the Ministry of Health in mental health service provision but every dollar is specified for deliverables, with no funding for base costs.

Katie, who is a member of the Rural Health Alliance executive, says gaps in health services in rural New Zealand are "becoming more and more apparent".

"If the Alliance is starved of funding and is forced to close, those gaps and shortfalls could snowball, leaving the health and wellbeing of rural residents at significant risk.

"Australia and the USA have had rural health umbrella groups for decades, with government funding for their running costs from day one. New Zealand deserves the same."