GPs will be replaced by nurses, sector told

Jenny Carryer
Jenny Carryer

Nurse practitioners will probably largely replace GPs in South Canterbury in time.

That's the word from Massey University School of Nursing Professor Jenny Carryer, who has spent two days here talking to health professionals.

Nurse practitioners diagnose and prescribe and "do everything a patient needs". There are three in South Canterbury, but with 55 being the average age of GPs, and not enough graduates choosing that path, it should be planned for now, she said.

"In Timaru it's not such a problem now but will quickly become a problem. In other areas it's already a problem. Any region needs to have a plan of action."

Prof Carryer has had a positive response here, with high levels of interest and also "inevitably resistance". It could be threatening that nurse practitioners can achieve the same level and standard of care as GPs, she said.

"The evidence has shown that they absolutely can," she said, with the added approach of treating the whole person.

There is a lot of evidence nurses work in a way patients "really like". Their success in residential care has led to up to a 30 per cent drop in hospital admissions.

"It's a new way of delivering health care that is extremely cost-effective," Prof Carryer said.

Chief medical officer of primary care, GP Bruce Small disagreed that GPs would be replaced. Although South Canterbury has had problems in the past attracting GPs, he said a number of trainee GPs have applied for positions here and are in training.

"We will potentially have one or two starting over the next couple of years."

Often former Timaru Hospital house surgeons return to become GPs here.

He said nurse practitioners had been "a valuable extra arm" in areas like the West Coast.

However, a shortage of GPs would be offset by a higher medical school intake in the last four years. Timaru Hospital recently received more applications for jobs than there were positions.

Nurse practitioners would be just like GPs in breadth of care if faced with the same time constraints, he said.

Dr Small said it was best to see GPs and nurse practitioners not as competition but as complementary.

The Timaru Herald