Rural Research Snapshot highlights struggle to have good health outcomes in rural areas.

Please find the link to the document here: Rural Health New Zealand Snapshot 2024

For years, our rural healthcare workforce has known intuitively that those in rural areas have poorer health outcomes than those in urban areas, but there has been no clear data to show this. In 2022, academics from Otago and Waikato Universities developed a geographical definition of rurality for health purposes, finally enabling the sector to compare the health outcomes of those living in rural areas with those in or near cities.

Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network has released key research findings in their ‘Rural Health New Zealand Snapshot 2024’, and the reading is deeply concerning.

With nearly 900,000 individuals residing in rural areas (1 in 5) and producing over 80% of Aotearoa’s export earnings, it is vital for them to be healthy and well—especially with the intention to double those export earnings over the next ten years. Yet, the findings reveal that rural people are falling behind in almost every metric measured so far. And the more rurally they live, the worse their comparable health.

In a nutshell, key data shows:

  • Significantly higher mortality rates from preventable causes.
  • Alarmingly higher rates of suicide, particularly for males.
  • Twice as many people living in social and economic deprivation, particularly in more remote areas.
  • Much lower educational qualifications (NCEA and Tertiary level).
  • Far fewer families have access to mobile phones and internet in their homes.
  • Very low vaccination rates to prevent disease. The more remote, the worse the rates.
  • And surprisingly, far fewer rural people accessing hospital care, despite their poorer health.
  • Many of these statistics are worse for Māori living in rural areas.

It is clear that the ‘postcode lottery’ for health is very much a reality for those in New Zealand’s rural production house!

Dr Fiona Bolden, Chair of Hauora Taiwhenua, states the situation clearly when she notes: “These findings are an indictment on the low priority that has been given to the health and wellbeing of rural people by this and previous Governments. We presented this report to Minister Doocey (Assoc Min Health – Rural, Min Mental Health) and Minister Patterson (Minister for Rural Communities) at Parliament on the 7th of May, seeking the Government’s support in prioritising our rural families/whānau in future budgets and planning. It is long past the time for rhetoric. We need to see action and priority given to funding the higher cost of health delivery in rural and remote parts of New Zealand which is further complicated by social deprivation and the larger percentage of over 65-year-olds who live rurally. We made it very clear to them that the provision of a telehealth service to underserved whanau with limited access to technology and data, while needing wrap-around primary health care, was not the answer.”

Dr Grant Davidson, CEO of Hauora Taiwhenua added, “We have offered to work with the Government to implement appropriate solutions that will make a difference to our rural communities and start reversing some of these terrible statistics over the next three years. We will look to hold this and future Governments to account for clear strategies and targeted funding so that the health of our rural people is not continued to be neglected.”