A total of 90 GPs have been recruited overseas to fill vacancies in rural areas around the country next year in what the NZ Rural General Practice Network says is a serious shortage.

In 2018 the network had to recruit 80 foreign GPs, mostly from the UK and United States.

''We have to go overseas to attract them and it takes a lot of 'hand-holding' to get them here and established,'' the network's chief executive, Dalton Kelly, of Wellington, said.

''It's not a recruitment exercise; it's a relationship exercise. There's no way we can supply New Zealand-trained doctors.''


He said the future looked bleak unless swift action was taken.

''At the moment there are 200 rural practices in New Zealand and there's a shortage of around 50 rural GPs.

''If we weren't bringing in GPs from overseas, it would be critical.

''The turnover varies from year to year and we know in advance how long they will be staying. We contract them to stay a year, minimum. Hopefully, it's longer.''

Kelly said about half of all rural GPs intended to retire in the next 10 years but the problem was not just confined to doctors - there was a serious shortage of other health professionals in rural areas such as nurses and physiotherapists.

Like the GPs, many of them would be retiring in the next 10 years and if something was not done it would reach crisis point, he said.

Last month, Health Minister David Clark said the Government would take a series of measures to improve the supply of doctors, nurses and midwives in country areas, but there was no detail.

''We've gone to him for more detail and have yet to receive a response,'' Kelly said.


Dr Clark said the Government was developing ''a raft of initiatives''.

These included changing the funding mix so that a greater proportion of GP training places went to rural trainees, investing in professional development of nurses and midwives, and improving the use of technology for professional rural support.

''These are things we can do in the short term,'' Dr Clark said.

''The Ministry of Health is also looking urgently at longer-term solutions and will work with rural communities, iwi, local government, educators, immigration and health professionals.''

Mr Kelly said the rural GP network wanted to see a range of health professionals being trained in rural communities.

''So that students form relationships and become part of the local community and experience everything that rural life has to offer.

''Embedding students, academics and rural health research programmes inside rural communities will see more of the health workforce choose to stay in rural New Zealand.

''It will better support and encourage rural kids seeing a viable pathway to a career in medicine and health within their own communities.''

Dr Clark said the previous National government had received bids for a school of rural medicine.

''That process will not now proceed.

''No money has been allocated for the school, which would have cost up to a quarter of a billion dollars to set up and operate.

''By itself, just training more undergraduate doctors is not the answer. We need a more comprehensive approach to attract, support and sustain the health professionals that care for rural people.''

Kelly said the National government had two proposals: a Waikato rural medical school and another initiative involving Otago and Auckland universities to create a rural health school training doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists.

''The minister said there wouldn't be a Waikato school but has outlined initiatives that were part of the rural health school proposal,'' Kelly said.

''We say the faster the Government moves on this, the better.''

The Rural GP Network works for more than 1800 doctors, nurses, practice managers and students throughout New Zealand.

- Central Rural Life