Hospital an option in emergency
If you could see a doctor for free or pay almost $100, which would you choose?
The option seems logical but many West Auckland patients don't realise they have a choice, claims Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere.
He says the $92 cost for an after hours medical visit in West Auckland is "outrageous" and urges patients to go straight to Waitakere Hospital's accident and emergency department instead of White Cross HealthCare.
Tamihere is running a campaign to let people know there are other options.
"Many within our community can't afford the ridiculous overhead," he says.
"We have whanau coming to us all the time saying they can't afford the costs and instead of seeking immediate medical care, they wait until the morning.
"We don't want a whanau member to die because they didn't have the money for proper treatment," Tamihere says.
White Cross is West Auckland's only after hours medical centre.
It has clinics in Henderson and New Lynn - each charging $92 for adults without a community service or high user health card, issued to patients who visit their doctor more than 12 times a year because of recurring health conditions.
Since 2010 Waitakere Hospital's emergency department doors have been open 24 hours.
Waitemata District Health Board acting chief medical officer Jonathan Christiansen says "patients should never feel like they don't have anywhere to go in an emergency".
White Cross HealthCare chief executive Alistair Sullivan says it's important that patients with genuine emergencies go to hospital, yet those who've had a minor accident or conditions that can be seen to by a general practitioner are best seen in community clinics.
White Cross visits are free for under 6-year-olds and all ACC patients, and Sullivan says those that can't afford to pay charges are never turned away.
"We arrange a time payment scheme individually with patients who can't afford to pay at the time.
"Many are currently paying off their accounts at $5 or $10 at a time."
Sullivan says White Cross will look into reducing costs in the future and has already lowered charges for patients in the past three years.
"We have been working closely with Waitemata District Health Board and have reduced the cost of after hours visits for patients most at need," he says.
Before the subsidies were introduced, patients 6 years and under were charged $31 and over 65s had to pay $82, compared to the current rate of $33.