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Crisis In Primary Health Care Provision As Covid Restrictions Hit Access

A crisis in health care provision may be on the horizon, warns the New Zealand Chiropractors’ Association (NZCA), as repeat COVID-19 lockdowns put private primary healthcare practices at risk of not being sustainable.

The peak body for chiropractic in New Zealand says that many primary health providers, such as chiropractors, dental health practitioners, acupuncturists, physiotherapists and other allied health professions rely on face to face consultations and fee-based income to survive. Prolonged or repeated restrictions on the delivery of healthcare will lead to widespread insolvency of some businesses and leave thousands of New Zealanders out of an option for healthcare in their communities.

NZCA President and co-chair of Allied Health Aotearoa New Zealand (AHANZ), Dr Hayden Thomas, chiropractor says: "Ironically, our members have seen a sharp rise in people seeking care yet during Level 3, chiropractic and other allied health practices remained closed to anything but an incredibly restrictive criteria for urgent care. While telehealth options over a video consultation can suit certain cases it is of very limited benefit for hands-on providers. Even Level 2 restrictions impact on the flow and viability of some practices with Auckland facing prolonged difficulties."

"The Ministry of Health restrictions are particularly hard on allied health businesses that depend on face to face interactions and are paid out of pocket fees by the public. They are highly trained health professionals who have excellent knowledge and ability to screen for COVID symptoms, practice infection control and appropriate PPE use, and have exceptional contact tracing information built into their patient management systems already. These practitioners and their clients that depend on their services are being severely affected by the pandemic response. Of course, many industries are struggling but at least some can still operate with physical distancing and delivery, or click and collect and still have some income. Our members face a gruelling scenario if rolling lockdowns continue and it is going to end up costing the country in deteriorating public health and elevated longer term treatment costs."

Hospitality, tourism, the creative arts, and some other industries are receiving targeted assistance, however those healthcare businesses with no public funding streams, which make up a large portion of essential healthcare services, seem to be a forgotten sector. Having access to healthcare services and the benefits it provides to both the public and the economy should ideally be placed ahead of the ‘nice to haves’ such as dining out or an adventure holiday. Even before COVID-19, there was a need for Government support of a broader range of healthcare options which currently completely miss out on any funding such as that given to GP practices and the DHBs and hospital system.

Dr Thomas says: "Chiropractors are regulated primary health care professionals registered under the HPCA Act with close to 700 annual practicing certificate holders practising in solo, group, and multidisciplinary clinics around New Zealand. New Zealand chiropractors have significant training (a minimum 5-year tertiary degree) and a broad yet highly skilled scope of practice and clinical expertise. They provide care for the public in a wide range of health concerns, including spinal problems, posture, certain neurological issues and chronic pain. Importantly, particularly with the heightened levels of mental health concerns being seen this year, chiropractors help many people with anxiety, sleeping difficulties and stress related disorders through their ability to assist the nervous system."

New Zealand’s chiropractors are taking the lead to inform, and inspire people to improve their health and prevent pain and disability by educating the public to have a greater understanding of the relationship between their spine and nervous system and how this affects their function and overall wellbeing.

At a time when people are dealing with significant stress and different health concerns, now more than ever we need to ensure the public has access to all health care services when they need it.

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