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Kiwis warned GP burden cannot be sustained

January 15, 2013

Kiwis warned GP burden cannot be sustained - $126m a year could be saved

New Zealanders may soon have to treat themselves for minor ailments instead of seeing their GP if they do not want to raid their superannuation savings to fund soaring medical bills in the future.

The New Zealand Self Medication Industry Association (SMI) suggests up to $126 million a year may be wasted in New Zealand on unnecessary trips to the GP for minor ailments such as dandruff, constipation, travel sickness and colds.

“Based upon recent trends in Britain, Australia and United States one in five GP visits in this country may be unnecessary and costing the taxpayer millions in health dollars. Clearly, with our ageing population, this is unsustainable,” comments SMI executive director Tim Roper.

“That’s money that could be better spent elsewhere and not wasted on prescribing painkillers or dandruff treatments that people could just as easily buy without a prescription at the pharmacy or supermarket.”

Mr Roper points to the recent announcement that The National Health Committee has to find savings of $30 million this financial year from elective procedures deemed to be of little benefit.

“Government has to be prudent in ensuring every health dollar is spent wisely so as well as looking at elective procedures let’s look at other ways we can spend wisely.”

Current Ministry of Health [Ministry of Health September 2012. ] data shows $629.7 million provided 12.2 million GP visits and 2.3 million nurse visits in 2011/2012.

“If even 20 percent of that could be saved it could provide a lot more heart and hip operations for our ageing population. Kiwis need to learn that the GP does not need to be their first option for mild illnesses.

“We believe, for example, the role of pharmacists could be expanded and more medicines could be available in supermarkets, where safety of the medicine is not seen as an issue, to reduce the reliance upon doctors who are already overburdened. This burden will only increase as our population grows and ages.

“New Zealanders must take more responsibility for their own health. Government simply cannot sustain unchecked and escalating health budgets without significant increases in taxation, national debt or a reduction in services, none of which would be desirable.”

A recent Treasury model, using an historic trends scenario, estimates public health spend’s share of GDP could rise from 6.9 percent in 2009 to 10.7 percent by 2050 [NZ Treasury Working Paper 10/01 (January 2010). Challenges and Choices: Modelling New Zealand’s Long-Term Fiscal Position. M. Bell, G. Blick, O. Parkyn, P. Rodway and P.Vowles. p.54. ].

Finance Minister Bill English was recently quoted as saying total public health spending is forecast to rise to $13.71 billion by 2017 from $13.65 billion in 2012.

A survey conducted by the British National Health Service in 2007 [IMS Health Dec. 2007 study, commissioned by PAGB.] found that one of the largest unnecessary causes of visits was the common cold – the study found 5.2 million visits by patients with a blocked nose. This is an ailment for which there are readily-available, non-prescription treatments.

“These studies raise the need to examine alternatives to GP consultations for minor ailments and other conditions that can be more appropriately managed once diagnosed. We’re not saying that people shouldn’t go to their GP if they believe they are seriously ill but we need to help them understand when they have a common problem that a pharmacy or supermarket can help them with.”

Internationally, there is already a move towards a Self Care model as consumers become more empowered. The New Zealand Self Medication Industry Association, along with its counterparts in other parts of the world, advocates Self Care which can include physical exercise and sound nutrition in order to maintain good health and prevent disease, as well as using over-the-counter (OTC) medication to treat and prevent illness, and managing one’s health after discharge from hospital.

Greater use of the pharmacist workforce to relieve the pressure on GP time for minor ailments that normally clear up by themselves in time or with a little help from and OTC remedy, such as mild pain or coughs and colds, would further reduce the burden of cost on the healthcare system. GPs could be freed up to provide some secondary care in their surgeries or just to focus on more serious or chronic cases.

With better health education, electronic access to health information and appropriate labelling on OTC medicines the pharmacist could become a first-line professional for many people. Mr Roper says pharmacists are well trained and will refer patients they believe need to see a GP.


About SMI: The New Zealand Self-Medication Industry Association Inc (SMI) is the national trade association representing manufacturers, marketers and distributors of a wide range of products, generally available "over-the-counter" (OTC) and mainly for use in self-medication by New Zealand consumers. SMI’s mission is to promote better health through responsible self-care. This means ensuring that safe and effective self-care products are readily available to all New Zealanders at a reasonable cost. SMI works to encourage responsible use by consumers and an increasing role for cost-effective self-medication products as part of the broad national health strategy.

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