By ANNE BESTON



Another long-serving Shortland Street star is joining the list of exits from the top-rating television soap, but this time it is for medical reasons.



Blair Strang, who plays ambulance driver Rangi Heremaia, was leaving for "stress-related matters," said John Barnett, managing director of programme-maker South Pacific Pictures.



Mr Barnett said Strang's departure was absolutely amicable.

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"We are not privy to all the details, but it's not a condition he will have for the rest of his life. It's a stress-related matter.



"He's made a terrific contribution to Shortland Street over the past six years and we wish him luck."



Strang's real-life partner, Katrina Devine, was reportedly upset late last year after being told she was being dumped along with five others.



The Herald revealed last November that sweeping changes would cost Geraldine Brophy (Moira Cochrane), Greg Johnson (Dean Cochrane), Jay Saussey (Tamsin Yates) and Malcolm Murray (Al Dubrovsky) their jobs. Another actor on the list, Katherine Hubbard (ambulance driver Ange Weaver), was written out in a recent episode.



Mr Barnett said Strang's character would not disappear until about mid-April.



How he was written out would remain secret.



"You'll see on screen. We are working on that at the moment."



Rangi Heremaia has been involved in some of the more wacky storylines, including a miraculous recovery from paraplegia and an on-again, off-again romance with medical assistant Donna Heke, played by Stephanie Tauevihi.



One of their hurdles was the discovery that they were brother and sister. That later turned out to be untrue and the pair were finally married.



Strang, who turns 29 next month, appeared in musical productions and made brief television appearances before being offered the part of Rangi in 1995.



He has a young son and describes himself in publicity material as a keen sportsman.



South Pacific Pictures denied that last year's rumoured axings were exceptional, but Mr Barnett said yesterday: "Some of the things talked about last year will slowly be appearing on air over the next few weeks."