Quake-hit medical centres 'advertise for patients'

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2012
Dr Arthur Collins
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

NUMBERS DOWN: Dr Arthur Collins takes a patient's blood pressure at the Gayhurst Medical Centre.

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Earthquake-hit medical centres are "advertising for patients" as people abandon their damaged homes and suburbs.

Some medical centres have lost up to 19 per cent of their enrolled patients, and the Canterbury District Health Board is considering changing the way the practices are funded to stop them going out of business.

Board planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said some centres had gone from being at maximum capacity before the earthquakes to "advertising for patients".

At this week's community and public health committee meeting, board member Andy Dickerson said the hardest-hit areas of Christchurch also housed vulnerable, poor people.

"I'm really worried about the health status of people in the eastern suburbs," he said.

The board shared Dickerson's concerns.

"We need to fund them [the medical centres] to maintain access, but it's not going to be easy," Gullery said.

Travis Medical Centre practice manager Linda Adams said 10 per cent of its patients were in the residential red zones and many others were living in damaged houses.

"We're seeing a lot of people leaving. Most of them are leaving Christchurch or heading out to Rangiora or Kaiapoi, but there are other people who are moving into the area," she said.

Dr David Richards, of the Wainoni Medical Centre, said a large number of patients had left the area since the quakes.

"We've certainly been affected and we're working with Pegasus Health in terms of funding and things like that," he said.

The Parklands and QEII medical centres were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Dr Jan Whyte, of the Gayhurst Medical Centre in Dallington, said it was "no secret" the centre had lost patients.

"We've lost more patients than we would have liked ... but there are people enrolling with us as well," she said.

The centre was in funding negotiations with the health board, but Whyte said it was "not very far down that track yet".

"It's a complex process ... and we might not have a really clear picture of population movements for a year or two because people might not want to change doctors while their circumstances are still up in the air," she said.

The board funds medical centres per enrolled patient.

Gullery said the board would have to "be creative and break a few rules" because standard funding would not help the centres.

It would be "a real risk" to vulnerable communities if medical centres could not continue operating.

She said that out of 131 medical centres in Christchurch, 21 had a drop in patient enrolments of between 5 and 19 per cent. Five centres had lost more than 10 per cent of their patients.

The board would not name the centres.

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