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It’s just what the doctor ordered

Greytown patients can expect “a new doctor to start at Greytown Medical Centre at the end of July”, with the possibility of a second by September, the Times-Age has been told.

The initial new hire will “support the team” at the centre and “then be able to work through waitlists for enrolment and open new enrolments for those who don’t have a GP”, South Wairarapa practice partnership business manager Neill Amundberg said.

The news comes shortly after the inaugural meeting of the governing board of the newly formed partnership of South Wairarapa’s three medical practices – Greytown Medical Centre, which is based at the Five Rivers Medical Building, Martinborough Medical Centre, and Featherston Medical Centre.

“The amalgamation into the South Wairarapa Practice Partnership looks to streamline processes and increase access to services for patients enrolled with any of the three practices, including shared resources,” Amundberg said.

“This will include sharing resources between the three practices to ensure patients can see a health professional when needed.”

The prospect of a second doctor at Five Rivers – which was subject to intense criticism at a public meeting in March last year because of a lack of GPs – is possible by “leveraging the partnership”, he said.

The amalgamation of the practices was formally announced in 2023, and the arrangement includes the purchase of Featherston Medical by Latitude Health, a fully owned charitable subsidiary of Tū Ora Compass Health responsible for investments in general practices.

The Featherson purchase is expected to be finalised by the end of this month and will complete Latitude’s ownership of all three centres.

The three practices will operate under one management structure, which will see “the previous owners continue in clinical lead capacities, supporting their teams as they transition to the new way of working under the new structure”, Amundberg said.

Explaining the work of the partnership management team and governing board, Amundberg said it will meet monthly for the first six months and then transition to bi-monthly meetings.

“This will keep everyone working very closely together during the initial transition phase for the three practices,” he said.

Community representatives on the board – Maori health advocate Liz Mellish and South Wairarapa District councillor Pip Maynard – “will ensure the voices of our communities are heard and ensure the decisions made reflect the aspirations and needs of our communities”.

When asked what changes the community might see as a result of the partnership, Amundberg told Times-Age, “On the surface, a few.”

“Mainly, you may see some of your familiar GPs and nurse practitioners working out of the different practices. Although staying mainly at their practice, the partnership ensures resources can be shared across facilities in the event of staff sickness or staffing challenges.

“The management team are currently having early discussions about how bookings and the phone systems will work in the future, but there won’t be any immediate change to this.

“If someone needs to access primary care, they can continue doing the same as they always have done: call your local practice and book an appointment,” he said.

Implementing the South Wairarapa Practice Partnership is still ongoing, Amundberg said.

“Once complete, it will serve a population of 12,200 patients, with 2614 – 21.4 per cent – of them being high-needs patients.”

According to data provided by Tū Ora Compass Health, of the enrolled population, 1813 [14.8 per cent] are Māori, and 197 [1.6 per cent] are Pacific.

Nearly 28 percent of enrolled people are aged 45 – 64, and 2915 [23.9 per cent] are aged over 65. 2637 people hold community service cards.

A Greytown couple who had attended last year’s public meeting about GP shortages said they are “thrilled” to hear Greytown Medical will soon have doctors: “Maybe this merger is already working”.

“Having doctors on board is really healthy for the nurse practitioners there and really healthy for the practice,” they said.

“Nurse practitioners do a magnificent job – and they deserve recognition – but having a doctor is great for their professional development. Nurse practitioners should have the support of a full-time doctor.

“With a growing and ageing population, you need a functioning medical centre.”

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