GP wait list nears 2000

The number of people in Horowhenua wanting to register with a doctor has stretched to nearly 2000 people and continues to grow.

One Horowhenua practice reported turning away an estimated 20 patients a day and Foxton Medical Centre said they had people ringing weekly and sometimes daily to register with them, including people from Levin.

A total of 1769 residents had been turned away from local practices in Horowhenua, which includes Te Horo and north to Foxton and Shannon.

The figure contrasts starkly with neighbouring Kapiti, which has 218 residents waiting to register with a GP.

People unable to register are advised to call the GP waiting list service, which is receiving calls every day, tacking more names onto an ever-growing Horowhenua list.

Practices in Levin also have a casual doctor for half a day each week for unregistered patients.

Practice manager of Tararua Medical Practice, Michelle Pender, said she did not know why Levin struggled to recruit and maintain doctors but her practice had people calling "all the time" to register.

She said retiring doctors added to the "ongoing problem" and in the past few years two doctors had closed their surgeries to retire.

Cathy O'Malley, CEO of Compass Health which looks after primary health care in the lower North Island, said Horowhenua's waiting list was "still not looking good at all" and was a case of "two steps forward and one step back".

Although Horowhenua has seen some new GPs in the region, including in Foxton and Shannon, one GP is currently away and some are nearing retirement.

She said Compass Health was constantly trying to recruit doctors, and had looked at ways to improve efficiencies in practices and see if some staff could take on other roles.

Ms O'Malley said the waiting list was a challenge and Compass Health was working to introduce more frontline nursing.

Mark Peterson, chairman of the New Zealand Medical Association's GP council, said Horowhenua's shortage of doctors was "probably just a reflection of the national picture", and the more rural the area, the harder it was to retain doctors. Horowhenua was just further up the Coast than Kapiti, he said.

He added that in Horowhenua and Kapiti GPs may be "being sensible" with the numbers of patients they are able to register compared to other areas which may be "overloading" and taking on more than they can cope with.

There were a number of reasons why New Zealand was losing doctors overseas, including pay and even more so, conditions, Mr Peterson said. "We haven't trained enough doctors over the last at least 10 years, probably 20 [years] ... and we haven't made general practice attractive."

GPs, as a general rule, are paid less than specialist doctors and have a lower status, and are considered to be "just a GP", he said.

Otaki MP Nathan Guy said the Government was increasing medical school places by 200 over the next five years, with 60 additional medical students this year.

The Government has introduced a voluntary bonding scheme, offering up to $10,000 for young medical professionals, including GPs, who will commit to a hard-to-staff region for three to five years.

Horowhenua Mail