Five South Otago health providers have agreed to work more closely together, for the benefit of the district’s patients.

The Catlins Medical Centre, Clutha Health First, Milton Community Health Trust, Tuapeka Community Health and West Otago Health signed a memorandum of understanding at the end of last month, signalling greater co-operation and resource-sharing.

Collectively, the facilities provide health services to all of Clutha’s 19,000 residents.

The new collaborative group, dubbed the Clutha District Health Network, will be chaired initially by West Otago Health’s Allister Body.

Mr Body said the pressures and challenges faced by all five organisations were largely identical, and working together could only benefit their operations and the district’s patients.

‘‘This is a collaborative network with the intent of promoting joint initiatives, sharing knowledge and providing mutual support to each of its members.

‘‘We were motivated by the changing landscape of the NZ health service following the government’s release of the Pae Ora – Healthy Futures legislation.

‘‘The government also released details of its Rural Health Strategy, which aims to improve health services delivery in rural communities, to deliver more of these closer to where people live and to improve rural people’s overall health and wellbeing.

‘‘[We] will be able to leverage the advantages of working more collaboratively with [our] peers to enhance the delivery of [these] goals.’’

Rural health providers continued to experience staffing issues and challenges around delivering some services effectively and economically under current funding circumstances, Mr Body said.

Although the five facilities would not be integrating financially, one possibility could be joint procurement for economies of scale.

The partnership would also allow communication to ensure all organisations were being dealt a fair hand by the government, he said.

‘‘In truth, we were already doing some of this, but not in any regular or structured way.

‘‘Now we[are] . . . best placed to take advantage of opportunities that arise as the health landscape changes.’’