By: Emma Russell

Parents who received free after-hours medical care for their children are now having to pay up to $61 at two Auckland clinics following funding cuts from district health boards.

Solo mum-of-three Natalie Bullions, who has been going to Glenfield White Cross for after-hours care since she was a child, said these new costs were “devastating”.

“We live on a tight budget and it will come down to being able to buy food that week or take my child to the doctors,” Bullions said.

But Waitemata District Health Board said there remained other centres in the area which offered free services.

Waitemata and Auckland City DHB announced a rejig to after-hours clinic funding in July in a bid to “reduce inequalities”.

Waitemata DHB’s director of funding Dr Debbie Holdsworth said an additional six after-hours clinics were now receiving subsidised funding.

Those clinics included: Shorecare Northcross, White Cross Ponsonby, East Tamaki Healthcare Glen Innes, White Cross St Lukes, Mount Roskill Medical and Surgical Centre and White Cross Lunn Ave.

But White Cross Glenfield on the North Shore and Three Kings Medical Centre in Mt Eden, which were open until 9pm, were no longer receiving that, Holdsworth said.

The changes meant White Cross Glenfield’s casual fee for under 13s after hours skyrocketed from free to $61.

At Three Kings Medical Centre, prices for care after 5pm had gone up to $50 for children aged between 6 to 12 – and $35 for under-6-year-olds.

Holdsworth said although those clinics were no longer getting funding there were still clinics near these locations that were.

Bullions said those medical centres were already under the pump.

“The closest free clinic for me is Shorecare Smales Farm … and I’ve waited nearly fours to get my son urgent care there, I can only imagine it getting far worse now.”

Health Minister Dr David Clark said he had not been briefed on the specific after-hours costs raised but had asked for advice from the Ministry of Health about it.

“As part of that I will be seeking an assurance that there continue to be appropriate after-hours services available and accessible.”

Clark said from December 1 around 600,000 New Zealanders would get access to cheaper doctors’ visits.

White Cross Healthcare CEO Dr Alistair Sullivan said funding support from the DHB to non-registered patients attending the Glenfield clinic ceased in July so it was no longer able to provide free visits for casual patients.

“Free medical care is offered to all enrolled patients at White Cross Glenfield under 13 years old and subsidised care is available for all enrolled patients.”

But Bullions said it would be “silly” to change doctors simply to get free treatment on the odd occasion she needed after-hours care.

Three Kings Medical Centre medical director Richard Powell said one view was that DHBs should provide a subsidy to children no matter where they went, then they wouldn’t end up going to hospitals which were already overcrowded.

“[The DHBs] decided not to do that and instead pay some winners an amount which we did not get.”

But he said it was an easier option for the DHB to contract with a big organisation like White Cross rather than lots of little clinics.

There were more than 35 after-hours clinics around Auckland but only 11 received subsidised funding from the DHB.

Holdsworth said the focus was on ensuring the funds the DHBs had were used well.

“A comprehensive procurement process allowed us to achieve greater geographic spread of clinics earlier this year – better meeting the needs of our fast-growing communities and at the same time enabling us to fund an additional four clinics across the region.”

Source: NZ Herald

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