Arthritis New Zealand welcomes the announcement of a new rheumatologist at Palmerston North Hospital but says it’s not enough to meet the need.

MidCentral District Health Board confirmed a rheumatologist would be starting later this month, after a wait of close to 12 months after the loss of two arthritis specialists last year.

Arthritis New Zealand CEO Sandra Kirby said while the appointment is welcome, Manawatu will have less rheumatology cover than before. The World Health Organisation recommends a ratio of one rheumatologist for 100,000 people, whereas MidCentral DHB’s population is 174,340 people.

“The long wait in the Manawatu for access to an arthritis specialist is typical of the reality in many areas. The shortage of rheumatologists throughout New Zealand is nothing new, but it is a concern to us, and obviously very worrying for those who need specialist care to monitor and manage serious conditions that currently have no cure,” she said.

Ms Kirby said the shortage was not related to lack of training but health priorities. “DHBs need more funding to ensure they can meet the increasing need for rheumatology care,” she said.

In its election manifesto, Arthritis New Zealand is calling for more publically-funded rheumatology positions and incentives for trained rheumatologists to practise in New Zealand rather than seeking employment overseas.


Arthritis New Zealand aims to improve the life of every person affect by arthritis. We are a national charity focused on raising awareness, advocating for those with arthritis and providing advice and support. For more information, phone the helpline 0800 663 463, find us on Facebook or visit

For more information contact:

Andrea Candy

Communications Coordinator

Arthritis New Zealand

DDI 09 523 8904



Sandra Kirby

Chief Executive

Arthritis New Zealand

DDI 04 472 5641

Mobile 027 419 8946


This media release was in response to the Stuff article below

Palmerston North to get arthritis specialist after long wait

Palmerston North Hospital has employed a new rheumatologist, bringing much-needed relief to patients suffering from chronic pain. MidCentral District Health Board confirmed a female rheumatologist would be starting in late July.

Rheumatologists typically deal with chronic, long-term conditions, autoimmune conditions and arthritis.

The hospital lost two rheumatologists in 2016 after a long–serving specialist retired in August, and the other resigned in December to move overseas.

The almost eight month wait to fill the job has left some patients frustrated and forced others to seek treatment at other DHBs.

Scleroderma patient Catherine Thompson was “appalled” by the wait. Thompson is one of a handful of patients in Manawatu with a rare condition that causes a thickening of the skin and connective tissues.

Scleroderma patients often sought help from rheumatologists, who had experience with autoimmune diseases, she said.

During the time there was no specialist in the district, some patients travelled to Wellington and one to Auckland for treatment, she said.

Palmerston North’s Arthritis Support Group shared her concern. The group’s secretary treasurer Anne Odogwu​ said one woman with particularly bad arthritis sought treatment in Wellington.

In a meeting on Tuesday, MidCentral chief executive Kathryn Cook admitted it taken “quite some time” to employ a rheumatologist. Cook said it was challenging to recruit people with the qualifications and skills during, at times, national and international shortages.

The hospital’s workforce update report showed there were 56 full-time equivalent vacancies. “We have less of a challenge in the nursing space and more of a challenge in the allied health and medical space for specific roles. But in saying that, our trend is worsening,” Cook said.

Palmerston North to get arthritis specialist after long wait

Palmerston North to get arthritis specialist after long wait

Compared nationally, however, MidCentral was “certainly not” one of the worst performers when it came to recruitment, she said. Hospital services operations director Lyn Horgan said there was a nationwide and international shortage of specialist rheumatologists.

MidCentral’s rheumatology service was small, and dealt primarily with out-patients suffering arthritis, but it did also receive a small number of urgent referrals. The arrival of the hospital’s new specialist was delayed “longer than expected” due to the relocation process, she said.

In the interim, the services of a Hawke’s Bay rheumatologist were used for urgent referrals and other follow-up clinic patients. Others were seen by their GPs.