Editorial: GP warning bell sounds

17:00, Jun 20 2014

When you've grown up in a particular district you take some things for granted.

Like having access to a family doctor or dentist.

But if you are new to town that's not necessarily the case, as one family has discovered on arrival in Timaru.

The family's young son got sick, and after repeated calls to GPs they discovered there was no room at the inn, so to speak.

It was only because the mother's sister also lives here that they managed to get an appointment. The alternative could have been the hospital's emergency department, when that is not something the hospital wants for this level of care.

There must be some families though who arrive with no connections, and what do they do?


South Link Health operates a list of GPs who are accepting patients, and yesterday told us one in Timaru was doing so. When we called, however, that practice had just closed off its books.

That's a concern because this population is not only growing, albeit slowly, but we are also living longer and potentially have an increasing need for doctors. The balance is that there is more focus on preventive medicine, and also improved drugs and treatments.

Yet it does not seem right that some people in our community might not have their own GP, someone who keeps their records and builds a relationship with them. Sure, they will still have access to the emergency GP, but will pay more for that.

This is not to say existing GPs should take on more patients. The danger there is waiting times increase and quality of care is compromised.

The other danger though is if one or two doctors left it would have a dramatic effect, so ideally some fat in the system would be good.

But who drives that? South Link Health supports GPs in the South Island, but is there a succession plan or enticement scheme to bring GPs here? Or is it simply left to the winds of the market?

A warning bell has been sounded.

The Timaru Herald