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Source: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says a chronic shortage of family doctors in Northland is no surprise.

RNZ is reporting that the shortage means patients are waiting up to two weeks to see a GP, while Whangarei Hospital is sending about eight non-urgent patients away each day with vouchers for free treatment at a private emergency clinic.

ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton says it shows up clear flaws in the current model of primary healthcare.

“Having non-urgent patients being turned away in hospital emergency departments is not unusual and is part of a system which helps doctors manage their workloads.  The problem is increasing volumes of patients with progressively complex health needs, pushing up against under-resourced services which are struggling to keep pace.”

ASMS believes in areas where access to GPs is difficult and there is a reliance on locums, District Health Boards should consider employing a number of GPs directly.

“That would help manage and improve the supply of GPs in regions such as Northland where there are high levels of health inequity,” Sarah Dalton says.

“Best care for patients is not locum-based.  If we want GPs to settle in smaller provincial communities, we need to offer income certainty and terms and conditions of employment which attract them and enable them to stay”.

ASMS points out that the shortage of GPs in Northland is mirrored by a serious shortage of medical specialists.

An ASMS staffing survey carried out last year found Northland DHB had a 36% shortfall of hospital specialists – the largest of any other DHB. It means clinical leaders estimated they needed 60 more full-time equivalent senior doctor positions to provide safe and appropriate care to patients and the community.  Read more about the survey here.