$20m Healthcare infrastructure investment set to boost access for South Island Māori and rural residents


Article sourced from NZ Herald, 8 November 2023

A new $20 million investment in healthcare infrastructure is set to improve access to health services for Māori and the wider rural community in one of the South Island’s fastest-growing towns.

A Otago University study found rates of mortality higher for rural populations such as North Canterbury, with researchers finding access to primary and secondary health care challenging for those outside of urban areas. The study also found mortality for Māori was 32 per cent higher than non-Māori in rural areas.

According to Stats NZ data, the population of Amberley in North Canterbury’s Hurunui District increased by 58 per cent over 12 years.

The addition of eight new subdivisions and a new $200m retirement village have seen record numbers of consents issued in the town. Council forecasts also suggest the population will more than double from 2300 to 5000 residents before the availability of residential land begins to constrain growth.

Industry experts say the rapid population growth in the area has not been matched by the development of healthcare infrastructure, forcing thousands of residents to drive at least 26km to the nearest town centre for medical, dental, physiotherapy and other health services.

A new three-level, 3000sq m health and wellness facility is planned for a vacant site adjacent to the 2.7ha Brackenfields Shopping Centre, following the completion of its sale process later this month.

The proposed development is set to attract more medical professionals into the town and could also see the addition of other wellness services – including a fitness centre.

Alan Henderson, director of Erskine Owen, the company behind a property syndicate formed to purchase Brackenfields, says Amberley has a growing population and there is an increasing need for health services in the area.

He says a medical centre could attract a variety of healthcare professionals such as a GP, dentist and physio and they are currently consulting with the community and undertaking other research to determine the ideal mix of service providers.

“We know that Amberley has a high number of retirees and that this number will grow as the new retirement village comes online and more people move into the area.

“Access to health care providers is typically poor throughout New Zealand’s rural townships and for those needing regular visits or specialist care, the long drive can be a significant barrier to treatment.

“Initial discussions with residents indicate there is significant demand for additional health services in the area.

“The health care model we are developing now is designed to support the needs of the community for decades into the future and we want to consult with stakeholders in the wider area to ensure it can effectively meet local needs,” he says.

Henderson says the new facility may also include other types of retail or professional services, depending on the outcome of their consultation with the community.

“While still in the planning phase, there is scope to shape this into a state-of-the-art medical and wellness facility which would support the needs of those in the wider region, as well as those travelling north on SH1, however, the development could evolve to meet other retail needs as well,” he says.

Henderson says they have received strong interest in the property syndicate from locals as well as wholesale investors from around the country.

He says the centre itself will also be rebranded and upgraded over the coming months to attract new tenants as well as encourage the 11,000+ travellers who use this stretch of SH1 each day to stay longer in the town.

“In addition to the need for more healthcare providers we are also hearing that the population is looking for a greater retail diversity with residents interested in seeing tech, hunting & fishing, and cycle stores, among others,” he says.