By: Emma Russell
Patea residents are needing urgent hospital care because the town has no permanent doctor.
Three days before Christmas Patea lost its last on-site general practitioner (GP), Dr Stephen Botham, who arrived from North Wales in October on a short-term contract.
Before Dr Botham started, the town had no full-time doctor for three months and instead used virtual consultations with GPs located in Taupo and a on-site doctor who worked one day a week.
Patea Medical Trust trustee Brett Honeyfield said more people were needing to go to hospital because they hadn’t received any primary care.
“Issues that should have been nipped in the bud earlier at a GP level haven’t so patients then need that urgent care.
“This is where it’s crazy because that kind of treatment costs a lot of money compared to a visit to a GP.”
Mr Honeyfield said four years ago their patient numbers hovered around the 2900 mark and now they sit at around 2200. “Some of our patients have left and gone someplace else which is understandable if they have multiple issues and need that continuity of care.”
Mr Honeyfield said they were lucky to have a doctor from Auckland come down for three days last week and a doctor has been found for four days this week. Another doctor who was scheduled to start on Wednesday has pulled out.
“It has put us in a tough situation once again but we currently have doctors secured from the 6th of February to the 6th of April.”
Mr Honeyfield said they were working hard to find someone to fill in at least one day a week until then.
“If we can get someone to sign off the nurses standing orders so that they can continue to treat some issues themselves,” Mr Honeyfield said.
South Taranaki mayor Ross Dunlop said obviously it was a concern and they were working with the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) to look at some ideas around improving primary health care all over the region.
“If we can get an improvement in general practice numbers in Hawera then there would be opportunity to share some of the services down into Patea,” Mr Dunlop said.
Mr Dunlop said discussion with TDHB had been in the works for the past six months but it really came to a head in August when the Hawera Accident & Emergency service was really overworked and then Patea lost their last GP.
“Things started to become pretty serious throughout the whole district but there are lots of people working very hard to come up with a solution,” Mr Dunlop said.
Taranaki has one of the lowest GP to patient ratios in the country and 57 per cent of GPs in New Zealand are aged 50 or over with 44 percent who intend on retiring in the next ten years.
Mr Honeyfield said with the lag time on producing GPs we are looking at a pretty ugly ten years.
“And that’s years minimum if the Government can make change now which they haven’t.”
Mr Honeyfield said the virtual doctor programme had stopped when Dr Botham arrived.
“We used it for three months when we were without a full-time doctor. It was challenging because those doctors had never met our patients or our nurses face to face so they had to rely on the patient notes and the nurses knowledge of each patients background.”
He said if they were going to use that programme again they would try getting an initial face-to-face consultation first.
“It has the potential to work but it would be much easier if the doctors were familiar with the patients first.”
Source: NZ Herald