The government should not switch off life support for what has been an effective voice for the health of rural New Zealanders.

The Rural Health Alliance is essentially a district health board for rural Kiwis. 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.

Advertisement

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.

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.

KATIE MILNE
President Federated Farmers of New Zealand
RHAANZ Executive Member