Upali Manukulasuriya, QSM, GP, Sri Lankan spokesman. Died aged 69.

Dr Upali Manukulasuriya, better known to his Taumarunui patients as Dr Manu, was a determined campaigner for better rural health services.

A chronic shortage of doctors in small New Zealand towns in the late 1990s led Dr Manu to take on local area health boards and the government to try to get help for overworked country GPs.

In a 1999 interview with the


New Zealand Herald

, he spoke from experience: "I'm really struggling when I'm on call for the weekend. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'm continuously working. I'm a walking wounded by Sunday."

This extra work, rostered every third weekend, was on top of a normal 60-hour week, and it took its toll. Taumarunui had three GPs to service an extended rural population of about 10,000.

"We're really going to kill ourselves doing this. The tired and stressed GP is bound to make a mistake."

Dr Manu told then Health Minister Bill English that rural GPs were in crisis, but the response was that the physician should emphasise the positives to attract more doctors.

Dr Manu was not impressed. "I told him that if he could think of a positive, I'd shout it from the rooftops."

His primary concern was that patients would miss out on essential treatment, because GPs who left a rural practice were generally not replaced. He also felt that some patients were hiding health problems from their GP, for fear of having to travel to city hospitals for treatment.

One solution, he thought, would be to force everyone to register with a GP. "It means we know our patients and are responsible for their health. If they don't come in for checkups when they should, we know it is up to us to chase them."

It would also enable doctors to diagnose illness early.

Upali Manukulasuriya was born in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, in 1940, and completed his medical training before moving to Taumarunui in 1983. He was attracted to the King Country town by the good fishing and skiing nearby.

He soon became involved with his fellow Sri Lankans, as a founding member and spokesman for the United Sri Lankan Association. He assisted new immigrants, particularly doctors, with paperwork and bureaucracy.

During his time with the association, the membership grew tenfold.

Dr Manu left Taumarunui in 2004, and worked in Onehunga for a short time before retiring. He is survived by his wife Shantha, daughters Shereen and Hiranthi, and two grandchildren.