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Change critical to cope with GP crisis

7 April 2008

Change critical to cope with GP crisis.

The CEO of Harbour Health, Susan Turner, says unless there’s a major change in the way we recruit and retain GPs in New Zealand we won’t have enough to cope in the next decade.

Harbour Health is the largest primary health organisation north of Auckland – with almost 150 GPs in 37 practices between Devonport and Warkworth.

Susan Turner says the situation is critical and getting worse every year.

“The nation’s focus at the moment is on the hospital doctor shortage but the problem is hitting grass roots primary care and it has far reaching and long-term damaging effects which will impact across the whole health spectrum.

“The current GP population is aging,” she says. “Hundreds of GPs will soon retire and we are struggling to recruit new, young GPs.

“Young doctors are not attracted to the working conditions or pay. They do not see the value in becoming a GP today which means there will not be enough replacements for the large group of doctors who will soon be retiring.”

A recent survey from the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners* revealed some alarming trends: 72% of GPs are aged between 41–60 years and approximately 9%
of the GP workforce is over 60 years. More are retiring early, in their mid fifties. GPs aged between 46 and 65 work the longest hours while the younger ones strive for work-life balance. More women are in the workface, who prefer part-time or locum work.

New Zealand has the highest number of overseas-trained doctors at 34% compared with Canada (23%), USA (25%) and the UK (28%). There are a decreasing number of self-employed GPs. Many GPs are reducing their weekly hours or working outside the practice in other medical or non-medical roles.

“The sector is not growing but the population is and it is also aging,” says Ms Turner. “As the hospital and emergency departments get overloaded and stressed and people are bumped off hospital waiting lists, even more pressure is put on GPs.

“There has to be some radical thinking and action now to cope with this at many levels.”

Harbour Health has a working group studying the impact and possible solutions to the looming problem and has been in contact with GP communities overseas with similar shortages, including the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Some have implemented entirely new business models of care which they are willing to share and may be an option here.

Susan Turner says, “we can’t cope if we do what we’ve always done and we have to look at innovative ways to change. It makes sense to tap into successful and tested solutions from communities which have faced and solved the same problem.”


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