GPs write open letter to Health Secretary seeking urgent solution to family doctor services

The open letter to Health Secretary Andrew Little described GP services as “stretched and under threat”.
picture: 123rf

GPs have written an open letter to the Health Secretary calling for immediate action to fix frontline GP services.

It is part of a campaign by the Association of General Practice Owners (GenPro), whose members include more than 400 general practice and acute care providers, to tackle staff shortages and underfunding.

GenPro chairman Dr Tim Malloy said lack of funding, workforce shortages and increasing demands put essential family doctor services at risk.

This puts pressure on the rest of the health care system and directly affects the health of patients, he said.

“This means that in many places in New Zealand, people are waiting weeks to see their family doctor as general practice clinics reduce their opening hours and services,” Dr Malloy said in a statement.

The campaign includes billboards and a report called ‘On the Edge’, which sets out a nine-point plan to increase support for GP services.

People are also being asked to send postcards to the minister and sign a petition.

Malloy said the 3 percent funding increase in July with inflation above 7 percent and the rising cost of living was a huge blow to general practice.

That equates to a “real cut in funding” on July 1, Malloy said.

“Our most important local nurses and doctors have been underestimated and underappreciated. They have had enough and patients are at risk as we face an unprecedented exodus from the service.’

General practice has struggled with historic underfunding and now doctors and nurses don’t want to work there and are better paid if they choose to work in public hospitals or in Australia, he said.

The government has invested billions in health bureaucracy but has lost focus on essential frontline services, Malloy said.

The open letter to Health Secretary Andrew Little described GP services as “stretched and under threat”.

He called for immediate government action to tackle the crisis and work to develop a clear plan for the future of family doctor services.

A 2020 survey found that 58 per cent of GPs planned to retire in the next 10 years and Dr Malloy said it was very worrying that there was no plan to replace them.

“If you don’t invest in supporting both the manpower and the resources for that service, then you’re paying for it somewhere else,” he said Morning report. The reality is we’re already paying for it in presentations to emergency doctors, pressure on our hospital services, our specialist services are overwhelmed.”

Australia had more GPs per population and the practices were better resourced, “so it becomes a very attractive career opportunity somewhere else”.

GP nurses were paid $8,000 less a year on average than public hospital nurses and bringing them on par would be a “very good start”.

Covid-19 exposed the inadequacy, but now it’s the burden of disease, the aging workforce, the lack of sufficient pre-trained numbers, he said.

The general manager of Three Rivers Medical Center in Gisborne, which has nearly 20,000 registered patients, half of whom are Māori, said it was unacceptable that doctors should be forced to provide services to vulnerable populations “with the smell of a greasy rag”.

Michelle Te Kira said there were challenges due to insufficient funding and gaps in the general practice model.

“The methodology used to allocate funding is flawed and confusing, and we are presented with more complex patient needs that cannot be addressed in a 15-minute appointment model,” she said in a statement.

It was critical that we were well funded and had an adequate number of family doctors to be able to provide adequate safe services and high quality primary health care, she said.

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