Dunedin's largest medical practice says it can no longer
afford to offer free health visits to a group of young
Since 1996, Mornington Health Centre has provided visits free
to patients aged under 18.
From January, the practice will charge those aged 6 to 17
(inclusive) $10 for nurse and GP visits.
About 3500 young patients are affected.
Practice manager Barbara Bridger said Mornington had been
unable to negotiate an agreement with the Southern District
Health Board and Southern Primary Health Organisation to
continue the ''special service''.
''This decision has not been made lightly and has become
necessary as the government funding sources available to the
practice have been severely reduced in recent years.''
About $200,000 a year was needed to retain the free visits.
Mornington was an independent primary health organisation
(PHO) until a merger with Southern PHO nearly two years ago.
Since losing PHO status, Mornington had to scrap many
services, including those aimed at diabetes prevention and
''After spending the past two years trying to continue to
provide these services, the practice has succumbed to
financial pressure and now its free under-18 policy will be
cut back to free under-6s only,'' Ms. Bridger said.
She said some parts of New Zealand had local ''flexible''
funding models to support services such as Mornington's
''If parents can't afford to bring kids to the GP, then the
health of our kids will only deteriorate,'' she said.
Southern PHO chief executive Ian Macara said Mornington was
making a ''business decision'' to charge the patients, which
Flexible funding arrangements allowing primary health money
to pay for services like Mornington's were not available in
the southern region, he said.
Methodist Mission Dunedin chief executive Laura Black said
the move was ''a great shame'' as it reduced access to
The health system needed to be reformed to help providers
like Mornington maintain a much-needed service, Ms. Black
Removing free GP visits meant more young people would become
acutely ill, and end up in Dunedin Hospital emergency
department, she said.
''People are going to have to get sicker to get that help.''
The southern health board frequently cites the need for the
primary sector to be better utilised to reduce attendances at
its overstretched Dunedin Hospital emergency department.
However, yesterday, in an email, portfolio manager Adele
Knowles said the change was unlikely to affect numbers
attending the emergency department.
The board was keen to introduce a flexible funding model, but
not necessarily to pay for under-18 health visits.