Two Waikato mayors say a proposal for a Waikato medical school will be a “game-changer” for smaller Waikato towns and the government must support it.
The proposal to build a Hamilton-based medical school has come from the University of Waikato and the Waikato District Health Board and would bolster the number of GPs working in rural and provincial centres. Many Waikato towns are reliant on short-term, overseas-trained doctors or have GPs heading towards retirement age with no replacements in sight.
Otorohonga district mayor Max Baxter said in terms of regional economic development, the medical school proposal was a “total no-brainer”. He wants the government to get behind it for the sake of regional New Zealand.
“This government says they’re all about regional economic development so let’s see what they can do,” he said.
“Anyone who lifts their head out of the sand knows how challenging it is for smaller towns to get GPs and what the knock-on effects of that are, both socially and economically. It means we can’t attract other health professionals even though we have high-health needs.”
“The way Otago and Auckland train doctors has left small rural communities like mine in the lurch and this is a chance to do something about it.”
South Waikato District mayor Jenny Shattock agreed saying South Waikato struggled to attract long-term GPs. She said local doctors were already over-stretched and their books were full.
“To have a medical school in Waikato that has rural health needs as its primary focus will be of huge benefit to South Waikato and rural communities. Good, local health services are one of the important things people look for when they are looking to relocate.”
Both rural mayors are backed by Hamilton mayor Andrew King who said the initiative would take the pressure off Hamilton-based hospital services which are buckling under growing regional demand. He said “without exception” all community leaders he spoke to supported the medical school proposal.
“Yes, there would be benefits to the city but I think the greatest benefit will be in the wider social and economic health of our region.”
In April last year, the Waikato Mayoral Forum which includes all the region’s mayors and regional council chair, resolved to unanimously support the proposal, asking the government to approve it “with urgency”.