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Patients Warned Of Delays As Shortages Bite

Independent Practitioners Association Council

Media Release

9 April 2008

GP group warns patients to expect further appointment delays as shortages bite

The organisation representing community doctors and nurses is warning patients to expect growing delays in getting appointments at their local surgery.

The Independent Practitioners Association Council (IPAC) says GP and practice nurse numbers are falling as the population grows and more and more local surgeries are struggling to meet demand.

IPAC – which represents more than 800 community based medical practices throughout the country – says Tauranga is the latest region where workload pressure has forced local practices to close their books to new patients.

Patients are facing similar problems in the Hutt Valley, Kapiti Coast, Manawatu and parts of Christchurch as a national workforce crisis hits local surgeries.

IPAC chair Dr Bev O’Keefe says the latest figures from the Medical Council’s Workforce survey show fewer doctors are now working in General Practice than seven years ago.

Dr O’Keefe says patients in many urban areas are now experiencing the access difficulties which used to be largely limited to isolated rural regions.

Dr O’Keefe says the situation looks set to get much worse - over four doctors and nurses a week are set to leave general practice as retirement and more attractive career options cut numbers further.

Dr O’Keefe says IPAC welcomes moves already underway to recruit and train more GPs and nurses but patients need to accept training takes time and longer waiting times are inevitable.

Dr O’Keefe says there are simply not enough young graduates or overseas trained recruits coming through to fill the immediate gaps and surgeries are increasingly being forced to make uncomfortable calls.

``All GPs are under pressure to meet appointment requests from patients already enrolled at their practices. You have two options when new patients knock on the door – cut down appointment times to squeeze everybody in or turn the new patients away to protect consultation times with existing patients.’’

``Doctors don’t like either option but when patients are already queuing in the waiting room – you simply have no choice.’’

Dr O’Keefe says patients in some of the worst hit regions have had to wait for months to find a practice to enrol with.

Dr O’Keefe warns retirement looms like a tsunami for General Practice with the average doctor and nurse aged about 50.

``We can’t replace the doctors and nurses we’re losing now but retirements over the next few years threaten to overwhelm us.’’

Dr O’Keefe says the growing pressure on local surgeries also has significant implications for the wider health system.

``Well resourced General Practice keeps patients out of hospitals. But waiting lists and bottlenecks at community practice level means patients spilling over into already stretched hospital emergency departments.’’

Dr O’Keefe says IPAC warmly welcomed all new moves to boost GP training and recruitment but patients need to know that the situation is going to get worse long before it gets better.


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