Distress over doctor's fee for mum

The mother of a sick baby appears to have been put off from seeking medical assistance for her child because she could not afford to pay a $35 doctor's consultation fee.

However the medical centre's manager says while he feels sorry for sick children whose parents can't afford to see a doctor, his hands are tied because of a lack of funding.

Hamilton parent Amanda McMullen contacted the Times because she was concerned about the ''sad scenario'' she recently witnessed in the waiting room of Radius Medical's clinic at Davies Corner in Hamilton.

Ms McMullen said while she was waiting for her own appointment a woman came in and approached the receptionist, telling her she had a sick 10-month-old child who was coughing and vomiting and had diarrhoea.

The Maori woman in her mid to late 30s said she was from out of town.

''The receptionist gave her a casual patient form to fill in, and this must have prompted her to stop and think and ask if there was a charge for her 10-month-old to be seen. The receptionist told her yes.

''She just got up and left. I don't know what became of her.

''I have been kicking myself ever since that I didn't intervene. If I had been more alert and on to it, I would have jumped up and told them I would just pay for her. I felt really sorry for this woman - nobody should be put off going to the doctor's because they can't afford it right at that time.''

Ms McMullen said before the woman left, the receptionist suggested she come back after 5.30pm.

''I rang later to check what the cost was for what she was asking for and it was $35. It's a lot of money for someone on a budget these days. I'm lucky I can afford that sort of thing, but not everyone can.

''It is really sad something like this can happen. It's a reflection of our society, I suppose. Care for children under six should be totally free, no matter if you are away from your home town or not.''

Radius Medical general manager Navin Rajan said he was dismayed to hear of the experience of both the female patient and Ms McMullen, and he wanted to apologise unreservedly to both.

''There is a board behind where the receptionist sits, which clarifies for patients what constitutes an emergency and where she should go. [The receptionist] should have pointed this out to the woman.''

Most medical centres in Hamilton faced the ''distressing'' situation caused by the Waikato District Health Board's funding policy, which involved Anglesea Clinic but excluded other medical centres from dealing with children under six free of charge.That policy was introduced in 2010. The $625,000 per annum contract between the Waikato District Health Board and Anglesea was intended to help ease pressure on Waikato Hospital's emergency department.

Although Radius had funding to allow children under six to be seen to for free, it was only allowed to apply this after 5pm.

''There is no additional funding forthcoming and they do not allow us to use our own funding,'' Dr Rajan said.''It is very frustrating for us. We see a phenomenal amount of sick children here.  

Waikato District Health Board communications director Mary Anne Gill said Dr Rajan was better to direct his concerns to the Hauraki Primary Health Organisation (PHO).

Anglesea Clinic came under the auspices of the Midlands Health Network PHO, and it was through that body that the funding deal had been arranged.

All GP practices can choose which Primary Health Organisation they can align themselves with, she said.

Mrs Gill said Dr Rajan's assertion most Hamilton medical centres were excluded from providing after hours care for children under six was incorrect.

Anglesea Clinic provided cover for 90 per cent of Waikato's practices after hours and on weekends, she said.

''That means 'most' are covered by the health board's funding policy after hours and weekends. But all children under six in the Waikato enrolled with a primary health organisation get free consultations all day at their usual practice and free at Anglesea all day too.''