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04Dec

Caravan a haven for farmer health

The corner of a saleyard is not the usual place you would expect to find a caravan, but then the GlobalHQ health caravan is not parked up there for a holiday view and a sea breeze.

Affectionately known as “The Glob” GlobalHQ’s rural health caravan was the brainchild long time rural ambassador Craig “Wiggy” Wiggins.  

Concerned about the health of farmers, he decided to make it easier for them to get a health assessment by taking the clinic to them at the local sale yards, initially using a horse float as a clinic.

Dean and Cushla Williamson, owners of rural publishing company GlobalHQ decided to adopt Wiggy’s idea two years ago, moving it from the horse float to “The Glob”

Dean says the issue of rural health is something that had been playing more upon his mind, prompted in part by the increasing number of articles run in his own paper Farmers Weekly on health issues in rural communities.

“If you look at most New Zealand farms, the farmer is the most important person upon them, few farms can run if that person falls over and dies or gets sick.

“We wanted to put something in place for rural families to help them be more proactive about their health, and have accessibility to a health care professional,” says Dean.

So with that he and Cushla purchased an old caravan, refurbished it and called on their talented GlobalHQ staff to design its stand out paint job.

The Glob hit the road, and quickly built a profile at some popular sales venues around the lower North Island and Canterbury. Staffed by long time rural doctor Sue Steven, farmers have flocked to the caravan to have a free basic health check, with many often finding they need a further consultation and advice from their GP about issues the checks have found.

“There has also been a bit of good natured nudging come up with the checks- I went into the tea rooms at the Feilding saleyards and here were a bunch of farmers all comparing their check-up reports, you would never usually find farmers talking openly about their health,” says Dean.

Sue Fowlie, or “Dr Sue” as she’s often known also practices at Rakaia Medical Centre.

She says the caravan gives farmers a chance to be checked out in an environment they are comfortable with, and offers the opportunity to get a conversation going on what their problems may be.

As the daughter of a beef farmer in Scotland she is equally comfortable setting up at the sale yards and kicking conversations off with a few questions about the weather and stock prices.

“We are finding that with about a quarter of the farmers who come in require further consultation work with their GP. The most common issues are around blood pressure. We also ask about their family history, something they often don’t consider as they approach an age when maybe one of their parent’s suffered a heart attack or health condition.”

Sometimes further probing may highlight some mental health issues, often reflected by problems of sleeplessness. Sue can proudly point to a few “saves” from the caravan consultations, including identifying a farmer in Feilding who had a heart condition who went on to receive attention and preventative treatment. Importantly, she follows up on any farmers with further consults required to check they have followed through.

“And so far there is no-one who has not.”

Glob manager and health expert Michelle Thompson said the caravan has removed the four key obstacles farmers face when dealing with health issues.

“They are access, time, cost and their own resistance to getting checked up. The Glob’s location means they are comfortable to drop in, it’s almost part of their work day if they are at the yards.”

Covid-19 lockdown cut The Glob’s rural visits short, but the team are lining up venues including around Canterbury for the new year.

“We will be looking forward to getting back out there – farming is more important than ever for New Zealand, and we want to be sure farmers’ health is getting the attention it deserves.”

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