Farmer health checks deliver peace of mind

25 January 2018

Farmers visiting their local Fonterra Farm Source store in the last few months came out with more than just stock feed, fencing wire and the odd pair of gumboots. They also picked up a little peace of mind.

Many stores around the country have been part of a national campaign to deliver health checks to farmers.

The free checks are part of DairyNZ’s Health PitStops project, which is supported by the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain (TDVC) Primary Growth Partnership programme.

The programme is a seven-year, $170 million innovation investment led by commercial partners, including DairyNZ and Fonterra, and partnered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Since it started in 2010, more than 4000 farmers have had health check-ups at events such as the National Fieldays and SIDE (South Island Dairy Event).

The TDVC programme ends shortly, but the team behind the PitStops project believe the check-ups are too important to end with it.

They’ve turned to Fonterra’s Farm Source network and the nation’s nursing students to keep the project alive and sustainable beyond the life of the programme.

Sarah Tully, from DairyNZ’s Wellness and Wellbeing Programme, says there have been three pilot programmes run in Taranaki, Southland and Waikato stores over the past few months.

All three have been successful and she believes they have developed a sustainable business model that benefits everyone involved.

Farmers visiting stores in those regions had their body mass index, glucose levels, cholesterol and blood pressure checked by the student nurses, who also gauged the person’s emotional health.

“Primarily, it’s for the farmer’s own awareness,” said Tully. “If high risk issues are detected, the farmer is referred to a GP.

“There are many barriers which keep farmers from getting to their GP and early detection of health issues is key for resilience. That’s why we’re taking the checks to the farmers,” she said.

“This model allows organisations to work together and it brings the health checks closer to farmers – and reaches a wider range of farmers.”

Nursing students from the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) conducted checks in the Waitara and Stratford Farm Source stores over two weeks during winter.

Waitara store manager Nicola Heath said it was a great opportunity for farmers to put themselves first for a change.

“They often worry more about their animals’ health and welfare than their own,” she said. “So by being available in store they could decide if they had the time for 15 minutes to get an idea on where their own health stood.”

Health checks at the stores made a lot of sense.

“We can sometimes be the first people farmers have seen for a while, especially during spring.

“They can be faced with so much on a daily basis and we want to see them fit and healthy, so by offering our premises this gave our clients the at-home comfort while having a check-up.”

WITT head of nursing Diana Fergusson says the polytechnic got involved because it was keen to work with industry in meeting health-care needs of the rural population.

“The future Registered Nurse will have a significant role in primary health care and this was an opportunity for senior students to develop and use these skills,” she said.

The pilots involved Year 2 and Year 3 students and the supervision of a Registered Nurse.

“Students reported having the opportunity to develop primary health care skills as well as greater understanding of some of the health issues in the farming sector.”

Glennis Birks, the nursing manager at Waikato polytechnic Wintec, agreed.

Wintec’s third-year nursing students delivered 144 PitStop health checks in Morrinsville, Hamilton and Cambridge Farm Source stores over a period of three consecutive weeks.

“The programme fits our aim to engage with the rural Waikato community and we see it as an opportunity for students to broaden their skills of health assessment in a primary health care environment,” she said.

Fifteen of those checked were referred to their GPs.

“The feedback from students was they had a very positive and authentic learning experience and this activity demonstrated a real connection with the community. We are looking forward to getting involved more in this initiative.”

Tully says the health checks demonstrated why the programme is so important.

“During that first Taranaki pilot, almost 130 GP referrals were made. That’s about 40 per cent of those seen.  I am confident that many farmers have at least been able to adopt better lifestyle choices, and maybe ‘dodged a bullet’ because of the checks.”

She’s keen to see the programme go beyond Taranaki, Southland and Waikato.

“The next stage will be to identify other schools of nursing who are keen to participate in delivery and conduct Health PitStops nationally – our aim is to get them happening in every area.”

DairyNZ Health PitStops will be happening in different parts of the country in 2018.

Photo: Wintec nursing student Miriam Miller performs a check-up during a Health PitStop at the Hamilton Farm Source store.

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Lee Cowan
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Phone 021 930 836

Vanessa Feaver
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Phone 027 836 6295

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