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Doctors overworked and facing fast burnout


Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

Wairarapa general practitioners [GPs] have reported the third-highest level of burnout in New Zealand.

At the same time, 42 per cent of the Wairarapa GP workforce intends to retire within five years.

The alarming numbers come from the recently published biennial Workforce Survey by The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners [RNZGP].

While the study noted results would be “less robust” from district health boards [DHBs], where fewer than 30 people responded [including Wairarapa], it showed 42 per cent of the region’s GPs scored themselves from a 7 to a 10 on the burnout scale.

The latest DHB board paper noted there were 38 GPs working in Wairarapa.

These are made up of full-time and part-time doctors.

Twelve had responded to the survey.

Of these, one GP expected to retire in the next one to two years, four in the next three to five years, four in six to 10 years, one in 11-15 years, and two 16 or more years into the future, meaning 42 per cent of the GP workforce intended to retire within five years.

The figure made Wairarapa the DHB with the fourth-highest rate of retirement in the period.

When asked about the sustainability of general practices in the region, Wairarapa DHB chief executive Dale Oliff said the DHB contracted local primary health organisation [PHO] Tu Ora Compass Health to contract with general practices.

“We understand from the PHO that there are some vacancies in the general practices,” Oliff said.

“Tu Ora continues to assist practices with recruitment where practical, and provides advocacy where required with immigration and managed isolation and quarantines [MIQ] facilities.”

In addition, Tu Ora was proud that Wairarapa had the highest per capita number of nurse practitioners working in primary care alongside a practice nursing team, she said.

As of the end of March, there were 28.5 full-time equivalent GPs practising in the DHB’s area.

Full-time equivalent is a unit indicating a 40-hour-per-week workload.

There were 5.2 full-time equivalent nurse practitioners [those with clinical expertise and advanced education] and 35.5 full-time equivalent practice nurses [nurses working with GPs in primary care practices], according to the DHB’s May board paper.

Health improvement practitioners, health coaches and community support workers were also working with some general practices under the new Integrated Primary Mental Health and Addictions funding from the Ministry of Health, Oliff said.

“The rollout of the Health Care Home programme has seen the introduction of a primary care assistant role in the practice team.

“In provincial areas such as Wairarapa, diversifying the primary care team that cares for people and their whanau is a key strategy to responding to the growing needs within our community.”

Nationally, the RNZGP survey found 31 per cent of GPS intended to retire within the next five years. In a statement, the College noted its position that urgent action from the government was needed to avert a community health crisis.

“A significant portion of the shortage issue will fall with rural communities and doctors working in rural hospital medicine,” the statement read.

RNZGP president Samantha Murton said the survey results showed a need for “significant and fundamental change”.

“The landscape of general practice has vastly changed in the last 30 years; patients have increased needs and they’re more complex, and our administrative burden is overwhelming.

“However, the funding formula based on a 15-minute appointment has not changed in all that time and makes general practice unsustainable,” she said.

“Not having enough GPs is one thing but settling for a situation where our highly skilled labour force is overworked, burning out, and/or retiring early in the face of that is untenable.”

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