Mounting concerns around the diminishing healthcare services for rural communities causing women to give birth on the side of the road and an alarming number of farmers taking their own lives are prompting calls for the Government to appoint a rural health commissioner.

The Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ, which represents about 30 rural health, business and agricultural organisations, is expected to ask Health Minister David Clark to follow in Australia's footsteps and appoint a rural health commissioner along with what it deems as four other critical actions when it meets him and other MPs on Thursday.

RHAANZ council member and Kaikoura GP Dr Chris Henry said the shortage of skilled workers such as doctors and nurses in the rural areas, reduction in rural maternity services with six birthing units closing in the past five years, poor access to diagnostics tests and surgery and an alarming suicide rate among farmers with 20 taking their own lives in 2017/18 needed to be urgently addressed.

In May, Southland mother Amanda McIvor gave birth to her baby on the side of the road after Lumsden Maternity Hospital's services were downgraded and they were forced to travel by ambulance to Southland Hospital in Invercargill where there was oxygen and back-up life-saving equipment.


"There's a sense that while Government understands the issues, it hasn't quite grasped the urgency of the situation," Henry said.

He said the interim Health and Disability Review released in September showed rural communities were poorly served and was in desperate need of form, structure, and a clear and consistent strategy for delivering rural health services.

The interim review raised concerns about inequality in the system and saying it did not work well for Māori, poorer and rural communities. There were also talks about having community hubs where a range of health services would be available.

Henry believed appointing a commissioner who would be able to advocate for the health rights of all rural New Zealanders would be a step in the right direction.

"A Rural Health Commissioner would take leadership of all these urgent issues, push for policy change, accountability and ensure policies are followed-through".

The RHAANZ will meet on Wednesday as part of its RuralFest to confirm the five most pressing items it will then ask MPs to action at Parliament on Thursday.

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