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Greytown’s doctor crisis

Emotions spilled over in a public meeting that laid bare the grim reality of Greytown’s desperate shortage of doctors.

Spurred by a series of stunning social media posts accusing it of being a multi-million dollar white elephant, Greytown Medical Centre was forced to front the public about its acute lack of general practitioners and explain its ownership structure.

The public reckoning at the new Five Rivers Medical facility was standing room only on Wednesday night, as the practice explained its attempts to find a solution to the doctor shortage and listened to residents vent their frustrations about wait times and a revolving door of GPs. The Greytown Medical Centre, under the temporary ownership of Latitude – a charitable trust and subsidiary of Tu Ora Compass Health Network – currently has one part-time GP who is considering retirement and three nurse practitioners.

Latitude general manager Mabli Jones said the organisation’s mission is to keep practices under local ownership.

“We are in a bridging position and are actively looking for clinical owners. That’s always been our intention.”

The many assurances given regarding nurse practitioners’ capabilities around diagnosing and prescribing medication, and the revelation that an extended care paramedic would soon be triaging urgent patient needs, did little to soften public sentiment when the floor opened to feedback.

“The number of people here is an absolute indictment on Latitude,” one man said.

“Whatever you are doing is not enough. You need to do better. Until you get doctors, we won’t be happy.”

Another member of the public decried the inconsistency of care and said the lack of GPs has left her feeling vulnerable and unsupported.

“My experience has been alienating and frustrating. I don’t believe the nurse practitioner had the confidence to prescribe medication for a very distressing situation.

“We have an ageing demographic here. The situation is not sustainable.”

Doctor Ian Miller, a retired psychologist who spoke on behalf of Greytown Orchards residents, said while he acknowledges the expertise of nurse practitioners, the GP shortage was a primary concern for the retirement villagers.

“Older people have age-related problems and vulnerable conditions. We’re around just over 50 people. There will be 250 in a couple of years.”

While some people were against paying doctors’ fees to see nurse practitioners, others spoke up in support of the staff and insisted people accept that primary health is changing.

“I want a vote of confidence for the nurse practitioners. The care we have received here was second to none,” one woman said.

Nurse practitioner and New Zealand Nurses Organisation board member Lucy McLaren said the emotion in the room should be redirected.

“This anger and passion here is at a health system that is completely and utterly falling over.

“This is an election year – take some of this to the politicians, ask them what they’re going to do about it.”

In response to questions about the revolving door of GPs, Jones told the Times-Age a variety of professional and personal circumstances had caused doctors to come and go in recent years.

She said another public meeting would be held on a Sunday in a month’s time to address questions that could not be answered on Wednesday, and indicated the medical centre will be reopening its books in couple of weeks.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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