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Widespread doctor shortage starting to bite

 

Patients struggle for appointments at GPs. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

HELEN HOLT
[email protected]

The global GP crisis is hitting home, with just one Wairarapa clinic taking on new patients.

Of the seven primary care providers in the region listed on Tu Ora Compass Health, only one was accepting new enrolments.

Tu Ora Compass Health chief executive Justine Thorpe said most local practices experienced the same workforce challenges nationally and globally.

“This is often compounded further in rural and provincial areas.”

Carterton, Greytown, Featherston, and Martinborough practices had casual appointments available for those who were not currently on the books, however, Featherston was the only clinic accepting new enrolments.

Masterton Medical said illnesses sweeping through the community had meant up to half of its GPs were on sick leave in recent months.

It said the border reopening and staff taking the opportunity to visit family for the first time in two years, coupled with a limited number of eligible countries to recruit from, were
adding to the pressure.

“There is also currently a nationwide shortage of nurses, and we are now losing staff to other countries that are offering higher wages.

“Part of the problem is the pay equity issue between primary care and hospital-employed nurses,” a spokesperson for Masterton Medical said.

The medical centre said GPs were typically rostered for 8-9 hour shifts, but many would work beyond that, catching up on paperwork that could not be done during often frantic work hours.

“All healthcare workers have been working hard over the last two years since the start of the pandemic, and they are tired.

“All healthcare workers have been working hard over the last two years since the start of the pandemic, and they are tired.

“Like us, many [medical centres] are having to stop providing chronic care and just deal with acute care.”

Masterton Medical said its books were currently closed for new enrollments but hoped that would change by the end of next month.

“We think the NZ Medical Council needs to look at expanding the list of countries they will allow direct pathways for healthcare workers to gain registration here, and we need to find a better way to register overseas trained doctors.

“We understand that there are currently at least a hundred doctors in NZ who have passed NZ entry exams but are unable to work due to the difficulties around the registration process. Immigration also needs to free up immigration rules around healthcare workers,” the spokesperson said.

New Zealand Women in Medicine published a survey on Monday, which found more than 99 per cent of doctors who responded said they felt there was a health workforce crisis.

The survey questioned 911 doctors from primary and secondary care.

Health Minister Andrew Little has continually denied there is a healthcare crisis but had agreed to meet with the Women in Medicine today, board chair Dr Orna McGinn said.

Wairarapa Hospital had vacancies for three full-time equivalents [FTE] resident medical officers. Vacancies for senior medical officers were 6.75 FTE. However, this included one FTE for parental leave cover in November, and a person appointed due to start in September.

First Health and Wellness Centre opened in Masterton in 2020 to take the load off GPs and the emergency department, however, clinical services director Trish Wilkinson said the demand for doctors had become “scary.”

“People are being referred here because they can’t get into their own practice.”

“They come straight to us because they know they won’t be able to get an appointment at any clinics in the area.”

She heard some patients were waiting for weeks to get appointments.

“That’s fine for some people who just need a repeat prescription, but others shouldn’t wait that long.

“When children get sick, they can go down quickly.”

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