Business think tank backs Waikato med school bid
Some of Waikato top business leaders have thrown their support behind the region's medical school bid.
Members of Waikato Means Business have endorsed the proposed med school, saying parts of the region are being held back due to a shortage of healthcare workers.
In one case, a lack of GPs threatened the growth of a South Waikato rest home.
Waikato Means Business is the name of the region's economic development strategy.
* Waikato med school proposal: pros and cons
* Waikato wants a medical school: university and health board put request to Government
* Proposed Waikato med school faces challenge from Otago and Auckland
* Sir Owen Glenn makes $5 million pledge to Waikato medical school proposal
Its 10-member steering group is chaired by high profile businessman Dallas Fisher and includes Waikato-Tainui chief executive Donna Flavell and former Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Mike Pohio.
In a letter to National MPs, Fisher said the Government should consider the Waikato med school bid "through the lens of not only primary care teaching and provision", but also economic, social and community development.
"As you will know, rural towns can struggle for survival when they lose essential social and community services, including primary healthcare," Fisher said.
"In addition, where employment opportunities, including in health, do not create the necessary incentive for locals to work in their community, a vicious spiral can see further population loss, unemployment and loss of service."
The Waikato med school bid, a joint initiative by Waikato University and Waikato DHB, seeks to reverse a shortage of doctors in rural and provincial areas as well as address the health needs of disadvantaged communities.
Currently, two permanent doctors serve more than 5500 patients across Putaruru and Tirau.
Government ministers Jonathan Coleman and Paul Goldsmith are assessing the med school proposal.
The Waikato bid advocates a community-focused approach to health, taking students with an undergraduate degree and providing them with four years of practical, intensive medical education.
A focus will be on selecting students who are willing to serve high-needs, rural and provincial communities.
Fisher said Otago and Auckland med students are trained in major tertiary hospitals and are unlikely to choose primary health care in rural areas as a vocation.
"The proposed Waikato model offers the real prospect of young people from some of our Waikato towns being able to enter the medical profession and return to their home towns to practice as GPs and other primary healthcare workers."
Steering group member Gray Baldwin said difficulties in accessing GPs in South Waikato could deter businesses setting up shop in the district.
Baldwin said Putaruru's Rangiura Rest Home had to look outside the district to ensure its residents had access to GP care.
"If we had more GPs, we would be able to expand rest home services in Putaruru which is a great business and generates a whole lot of economic activity in town, Baldwin said.
"More and more people need rest care and we do it really well in South Waikato but medical services are a real issue."
Baldwin, a South Waikato District Councillor, said improving primary care clinics in rural and provincial centres would be a powerful business enabler. He expected councils to welcome "with open arms" the expansion of primary care clinics in their district.
"I think there's an awareness among charities and the business community that health care isn't 100 per cent government funded and they need to chip in. I'm not in a position to say our council would chip in x amount but we'd be fully committed to doing whatever we can to make this happen.
"And when rural towns prosper, Putaruru, Tokoroa, Te Kuiti, then ultimately Hamilton does as well."