On Monday I was in Rangiora for a public meeting organised by local MP Clayton Cosgrove, calling for the reinstatement of the after hours GP services that were cut last year. It was a great turnout, 250 to 300 people. They are understandably angry. This was a service they have had for more than 20 years. The population is growing, and it is also ageing. The 40 minute ride to the nearest after-hours in Christchurch is expensive if the one ambulance is not available and you can’t drive yourself. On Monday we heard the story of young mother who had to take her toddler who had burns to Christchurch. The total cost of taxi and being seen came to $300. By the end of the week she did not have enough money for food for the week and had to rely on the support of other agencies.
I have great admiration for the people who are behind this campaign. With Clayton’s support, a local woman named Paula Thackwell set about getting signatures for a petition to get the services back. She managed to get 8,246 signatures. That amounts to about 70% of the population of Rangiora, a truly phenomenal effort. The submission found its way to the Health Select Committee, which eventually reported on it in July.
I was on that committee, and I can tell you that the attitude of the government members was that there was no issue here. We got a report from the Canterbury District Health Board, and they said there was no issue. The majority of the select committee rejected the petition. Labour put in a minority report backing the petitioners. We asked questions in Parliament, Tony Ryall said it was not his problem either.
At that point Paula could have given up, the government was not listening. But she did not. Along with Clayton, she kept the pressure up. Eventually the government reacted, and the District Health Board have proposed a “solution”. It involves a six month trial of paramedic and nurse triage phone service. That is a step forward, and a complete change of heart from the DHB. But the community is not satisfied. The view at the meeting yesterday was that there needs to be a solution that still gives the people of the Rangiora area the confidence that there is a doctor available in their community when they need one. The meeting passed a motion to keep up the fight for the reinstatement of the services.
There is of course a bigger question here, which I have put to Tony Ryall which is what responsibility does he take for people across New Zealand having access to after hours services. Last week they were cut in Temuka and Geraldine. There are stories from elsewhere as well. The government needs to be up front with New Zealanders as to whether they will ensure that the services are there. But in the meantime, hats off to the prople of Rangiora for keeping up the fight. We are right there with them.