Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Health shuttles rare in poor towns

Report finds less community transport available for residents in struggling areas.

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

The poorest towns in the Waikato are the worst served by community and public transport providers, a new survey has revealed.

A report commissioned by the Waikato Regional Council looked at how many community transport providers, such as health shuttles, were in rural areas. It found towns such as Te Kuiti, Putaruru and Tokoroa suffering from the highest level of deprivation had the fewest.

The report categorised the Waikato into four sub-regions and found Otorohanga/Waitomo was the worst served while Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki and Matamata-Piako were the best. About 2098 people used community transport each week - and 1000 of those were for training purposes.

Alicia Crocket, co-author of the report, said the focus was to look at the transport services provided to smaller towns usually by community groups such as St John or Red Cross to get to the hospital or shops.

The 36 service providers surveyed raised concerns about the increasing demand for health transport and the growing level of isolation or challenges for people accessing services.

Ms Crocket said providers in Waipa and Waikato districts said it was particularly challenging for patients getting to and from Waikato Hospital for renal dialysis three times a week.

The community groups - mostly charitable organisations - were also facing their own hurdles due to funding coming only from the Waikato DHB or the users themselves, and the limited pool of ageing volunteers.

"The majority of people [that run those groups] were a lot older. It really highlighted that as people get older they are less willing to drive ... so it can be hard to find volunteers because the people driving the car should not necessarily be driving as a volunteer."

South Waikato mayor Neil Sinclair said community transport was an on-going concern especially because his district had the lowest number of cars per household.

Mr Sinclair suggested providing more services at Tokoroa Hospital because funding additional transport was expensive and would fall on ratepayers. In Tirau, where there was no community transport, people had to rely on friends to take them to the hospital, he said.

Best served

Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki, Matamata-Piako:
* 18 community transport providers servicing 593 passengers a week

Worst served

Waitomo and Otorohanga:
* 4 community transport providers servicing 923 passengers a week.

- NZ Herald

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