Patea has a GP again after four months with no doctor
A South Taranaki town which has been without a resident doctor since early July has a GP on duty again - but only until Christmas.
Patea's new GP, Dr Stephen Botham, who has relocated from North Wales in Great Britain, had patients booked in and waiting when he began work at the Patea Medical Centre on Monday.
He had been made very welcome by the staff and patients, he said.
"It's a lot more informal here, a lot friendlier and chattier than in the UK. The patients tend to have the same issues, so learning how the system works here is really the challenge for me."
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Botham ran his own practice for 25 years and was also an examiner for the Royal College of General Practitioners and a teacher trainer.
"I retired from my practice in 2015 and I wanted to carry on doing general practice and to do some interesting things," he said. "One of my fellow examiners had been out to New Zealand, and said it was fantastic."
Originally, he had planned to come for three months with his wife Lorraine, who is also a doctor, but she had to stay back to care for their elderly labrador dog, Alfie, 13, who was too sick to be left with someone else.
Dr Joe Scott-Jones, medical director for Pinnacle Midlands Health Network, is in Patea for two weeks to provide support for Botham, a legal requirement for GPs from outside New Zealand.
He said the clinic was hoping to find a doctor to take over when the clinic reopened after the Christmas break, but nothing was confirmed yet.
It was possible the clinic might use technology to fill any gap between doctors, as it had done successfully for the past four months.
Patea patients were seen via video conference consultations with doctors at a medical centre in Taupo, with the help of visits from outside GPs and a nurse practitioner.
"This was in some ways a good opportunity to pilot a way of providing services to a community that was in need and we are absolutely blessed with a practice that has got a fantastic culture and a highly skilled team to deliver that," Scott-Jones said.
"Taupo Medical Centre also learned a lot from their end, they are also a very forward-thinking practice, and we were quite lucky to have that."
"Pinnacle is going to take the learnings from this and I can see it's going to be a necessary part of serving rural communities in the future."
He paid tribute to the clinic's nurses for making the video-conferencing work.
"The nurses are providing continuity of care for the Patea community with the supervision of the doctors who are coming and going, consultations might be face-to-face or virtual, the nurses are the backbone of the practice."
Practice manager Christine Steiner said the system had worked well but had been time-consuming for nurses.
"People were a bit wary at first, but they got used to it. Some of the elderly loved it, they were amazed at the technology. We were thrown a little bit into the deep end at first, but we came through."
The Patea and District Medical Trust was very relieved to have a doctor working in the town, trustee Brett Honeyfield said.
He said the trust would continue its search for a permanent doctor or temporary locums.
"We'd love to get someone full-time, that would be ideal."
Solving the GP shortage required a long-term strategy by the Government, to train more doctors and also encourage people from rural areas to train in the hope they would return to practice as GPs.
"Even if they were to do it now, it's a 10-year solution. We need more people coming through, the population is getting bigger and a lot of doctors don't want to work five days a week."