Rural mental health crisis

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I can’t quite believe it, but Santa is coming to town this weekend!

Oamaru’s annual Christmas parade is once again set to draw in the crowds as festive floats snake their way down Thames St.

I’m so pleased to hear this year’s event is not only a celebration of that jolly man in red, but the entire Waitaki district — showcasing and embracing our diversity whether that be cultural, agricultural or industrial. Just like the braided Waitaki River, there are so many different sectors and communities which have come together to make Oamaru the place it is today, and I think it’s important we acknowledge and take pride in this as we continue to evolve as a town into the future.

I was concerned, but sadly not surprised, by Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ’s (RHAANZ) rural health road map report, released last week.

It calls for action from the government around the inequity of access for rural people to timely healthcare and treatment, the consequential poor health outcomes and the critical rural health workforce crisis.

RHAANZ, which is made up of 30 health businesses and agricultural organisations, is calling for the government to appoint a rural health commissioner to address these issues.

Key areas of concern were a lack of rural maternity services, as well as care for farmers’ wellbeing, two areas which I have been heavily involved in and have seen first-hand the total lack of Government support and attention for.

Between 2017 and 2018, 20 New Zealand farmers took their own lives.

A recent Ministry of Health report showed suicide rates are up 17% in rural areas, while they were down 7% in towns and cities.

Rural men and older farmers make up two of the three most “at risk” groups for suicide.

The Government continues to turn a blind eye to these figures. The standard of mental healthcare in rural New Zealand has to improve urgently.

The report also noted a lack of rural health workers. Unfortunately, this is a problem across many other sectors throughout the region.

Meat processor Alliance Group said this week that attaining staff for their Pukeuri and Smithfield plants continued to be a challenge, with major labour shortages throughout Oamaru and Timaru.

I have also spoken with several dairy, sheep and beef farmers who have struggled to attract workers throughout their busiest times.

The Government must address this issue by encouraging local employment and ensuring immigration processes are streamlined to avoid backlogs and ensure those who are prepared to work can do so.