Assurances on GP access

Timaru residents will not be left without doctors, a spokeswoman for South Link Health says.

At the start of last week there was just one Timaru GP who had notified South Link Health that he had space on his books for new patients. By the end of last week there was none.

However, South Link Health locality manager Michelle Baldwin said that did not mean people who needed access to a GP would be left without one. Part of her job is to take queries from people requiring a GP and to source what practice they can get into as soon as possible.

As part of that process, Baldwin surveys Timaru GPs once a month to determine whether or not they can take on new patients.

"Some will come back and say ‘we can take 10 people this month', or ‘we can take on five families'. Sometimes at the start of the month I will have a large number of spaces," she said.

"Priority goes to those that don't have primary care."

Often it takes just a day to find those patients a GP, she said.

Although there are no GPs "officially" taking on new patients in Timaru, Baldwin has still found GPs for two women this week.

"I certainly don't believe there are any people without care, especially with the duty doctor service [that is available] every day."

That service can be contacted on 684 8209. The caller will be told who the duty doctor is that day. The number is the same for people who need after-hours care. A registered nurse will answer the phone and direct callers to the appropriate care.

South Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Nigel Trainor said GPs in Temuka, Geraldine and Waimate were still enrolling new patients.

He said if one or two GPs were to retire, the DHB would be likely to cope as it had in the past.

"This has happened already in the past few years and on each occasion there has been an independent party interested in buying the retiring GP's practice."

South Canterbury has 27 GP practices. There are about 39 GPs and two nurse practitioners working permanently, along with locums who cover long-term for GPs who are away.

GPs work as independent businesses, so they can determine how many patients they take on.

The Timaru Herald