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New Zealand’s General Practitioners Are A Workforce In Crisis

A survey conducted by The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners yesterday shows that GPs are at breaking point. The College is calling on the Government for urgent action to address the health crisis that GPs now find themselves in as a result of COVID-19.

The survey was answered by 900 of New Zealand’s 5,500 GPs and showed that almost 600 had had their work hours reduced. Many doctors said they’d lost their jobs, were struggling to keep businesses afloat, and didn’t know how they could continue under current conditions.

Dr Samanatha Murton, President of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said, "Our GP workforce was already in crisis with not enough GPs to serve community needs and adding a number of COVID-19 related factors has created a severe situation for our sector.

"Add to that the cost of ensuring people are safe in GP clinics, remote consultations reducing patient numbers, a reduction of ACC consulations because there’s no sport at the moment, and DHBs cancelling elective and non-urgent procedures meaning no follow ups with local doctors, and that has created the perfect storm," she says.

College Medical Director Dr Bryan Betty says, "we are stretched beyond breaking point and something needs to change urgently.

"As well as doctors under pressure, their patients are stressed and have lost their jobs and are financially struggling.

"Many GPs are not pursuing payments and wearing the cost themselves."

The College’s survey shows that the effect of preparation for COVID-19 has created a new health emergency for GPs in New Zealand who are the very people we need to help New Zealanders get through this pandemic.

Dr Murton says, "The GP sector must be preserved; we are an essential service and we cannot let GPs lose their jobs or GP practices fail because - quite simply - we’re needed to fight against COVID-19 and continue to provide our usual quality health care in the community.

"GP’s will be needed more than ever after COVID-19, and any reduction in the GP workforce and/or GP practices that is allowed to happen now will cost New Zealand lives in future."

Notes to editors

- The money GP practices spent to ensure staff and patients were safe included things like patient separation infrastructure and equipment, virtual consult infrastructure, and PPE.

- The move to virtual consultations has meant that GPs’ cashflow has dried up. Fewer patients in physical consults means that co-payments from patients are not being collected or they have to invoice and wait for patients to pay. Many patients can’t pay as they have lost their jobs.

- Lockdown has seen no sports, so there are fewer accidents and injury-related consults have substantially reduced.

- Lockdown has seen DHBs stop elective and non-urgent procedures, so there has been a substantial drop in patient followups required.

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