Eketahuna . . . has been without a doctor for six months. PHOTO/FILE

Eketahuna feeling the brunt of lack of doctors

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz
Eketahuna has been without a doctor for six months and the community is getting worried.
Up until September last year, the rural town’s nurse-led medical centre had a GP visiting once a week.
But after four GPs resigned, and one took maternity leave, the Tararua Health Group (THG), which provides rural medical services to the area, has been stretched beyond its limits.
Eketahuna Health Centre committee chairwoman Adrienne Dempsey said a GP had been provided to the clinic for the past 30 years, but the doctor shortage was not new to them or to the rest of the country.
“There is a level of frustration in the community — we have patients who have to travel,” she said.
“When you’re sick, having to travel for 40 to 50 minutes one way to get to a doctor is not pleasant.”
It was especially tough for cancer patients and those with chronic conditions, she said.
“We do believe the Tararua Health Group will give us back a GP at some point, but it’s out of our control.”
But the registered charity is not sitting on its hands in searching for a solution.
The next step for the clinic was to secure a Masterton-based nurse practitioner to provide more clinical support, she said.
The Tararua Health Group is an umbrella organisation that provides primary healthcare services to rural Tararua.
The group had provided a GP for the clinic since it was formed nine years ago, but chief executive Sharon Wards said she could only do so much with the resources available.
According to guidelines, the group should have more than 10 fulltime GPs to “safely look after” the number of patients in its area – that’s 1500 patients to one fulltime doctor, she said.
But the group has only about 10 part-time GPs and two fulltime GPs.
“We have always been under-resourced in terms of recommended guidelines,” she said.
It is a symptom of the lack of GPs across the country which has put us into this position, and as soon as we are able, it would be our intent to have a GP back working in Eketahuna.
“We are in a little bit of a pothole along that journey,” Ms Wards said
The focus on the next round of recruiting was to secure more permanent staff for the Pahiatua Medical Centre who could then travel Eketahuna.
She was hoping to have a nurse practitioner on board soon.
Nurse practitioners can write prescriptions and carry out some of the other duties of a GP.
But she admits, “anecdotally, there are people in our society who believe that nurse practitioners are second best”.
To introduce a nurse practitioner to the centre would therefore require an educational shift for the community.
The centre is part-funded by MidCentral District Health Board but elected member and Eketahuna resident Diane Anderson said while the board was concerned, it was not responsible for recruiting GPs.
But the DHB had helped get trainees to the area through Palmerston North hospital and offered the opportunity to circuit around rural practices, she said.
Some trainees were employed by these practices.
“With winter coming on, it is a concern in the community,” she said.
Tararua Mayor and Eketahuna resident Tracey Collis said the lack of a GP created stress within the community.
“It creates an additional cost to travel, and some people don’t have the ability to travel.
Rural connectivity was more important than ever looking forward to future proofing the system.
“Can we have the possibility of Skype consults?
“Nurse practitioners do amazing work but what other solutions can we look at, as well as focusing on finding a doctor, by using technology,” Mrs Collis said.