Doctors form link to assist Cook Islands

EMMA BEER EMMA.BEER@NELSONMAIL.CO.NZ
Last updated 13:00 08/10/2012

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Nelson Hospital staff may soon have the opportunity to help make a difference to Cook Islands health services.

Three Nelson doctors recently visited Rarotonga Hospital and attended the Cook Island Ministry of Health Annual conference.

Infectious diseases specialist Richard Everts, pediatrician Garth Smith and anaesthetist Alastair Mark visited the Cook Island in July and met health officials and local practitioners.

"It was just what we were expecting, we were overwhelmed with how welcoming they were," Dr Everts said.

He and his colleagues had been talking about setting up a link between Nelson and Rarotonga hospitals for about a year.

"We feel Nelson has an extremely good set up, and has good staff and resources. As a hospital we have a lot to offer."

The hospital board had seemed enthusiastic about the idea but could not commit financially, Dr Everts said.

"The DHB has got budget problems right now and has got no extra money to put into this."

What was available, though, were multiple resources the DHB already funded, Dr Everts said.

Doctors had mobile phones to provide instant advice to Cook Islands colleagues, and the hospital had teleconference facilities to help provide education and support, he said.

Doctors also had a certain amount of hours and funding available for their continued medical education which could be used to travel to Rarotonga, where doctors would receive education as well as provide support, Dr Everts said.

"So part of the cost would be covered as part of our normal, routine education budget." The rest would be covered by the individuals, he said, but "that's that aid work is all about".

There was also a possibility of applying for funding from the Ministry Foreign Affairs and Trade or from trusts.

The Counties Manakau health board already had a similar arrangement in place and Nelson would be able to be part of that wider network, he said.

Although there are many countries around the world who could benefit from help, Dr Everts said they choose the Cook Islands for several reasons.

"They're our neighbours, so they're close to us; they speak English; they're a New Zealand protectorate and are entitled to New Zealand healthcare; it's quite easy to get there; and it's safe, I don't think we would have had much luck gathering a team up if we were going to a place where people die or come back with malaria."

As well as helping with education, one of the most useful things would be assisting doctors and enabling them to take some leave, Dr Everts said.

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He said an obstetrician he met at Rarotonga Hospital had not taken leave in 18 months.

"No-one there can do her job. So maybe someone [from Nelson] who can do that job could go over there so she could take a week off."

The sole doctor working on the medical ward was missing out on an important part of doctor training by having to work alone, Dr Everts said.

"He doesn't get to work side-by-side with other people, it's really important to be able to share ideas and observe each other's style."

Dr Everts was hoping to go over to Rarotonga next winter and spend some time with this doctor, working alongside him before taking over the ward and letting the man take some time off.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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