Wide variations in the cost of a child's appointment with a
doctor are ''obscene'', and the medical fraternity should
agree a city-wide price, Salvation Army Dunedin Community
Ministries manager Lindsay Andrews says.
For children aged 6 to 17, charges ranged between $10 and
$40, apart from Servants Health Centre, which was free.
Of 28 Dunedin practices checked, only one charged ($7) for
children aged under 6.
The Otago Daily Times received an anonymous letter
from a person who said they worked in the health sector and
daily saw children in the poorer parts of Dunedin not going
to the GP because of cost. This was causing time off school
and trips to hospital, the writer said.
Medical costs were placing significant financial stress on
families, Mr Andrews said when contacted. He believed the
city's doctors should agree on a price for children to
provide consistency across Dunedin, as the large variations
did not seem right.
''They surely must be able to say this is a fair price for
children across the city, and anything above that is unfair.
''It should be the right of every child to have proper
Mr Andrews said the service's foodbank experienced 51% higher
demand from new families in the first quarter of this year,
compared with the same quarter last year.
Some practices did not charge their advertised price, which
helped, but he was uncomfortable with the idea of them
playing ''Robin Hood'' and effectively requiring some
patients to subsidise others.
Caversham Medical Centre manager Lynn Baird said, when
contacted, the practice GPs exercised discretion, including
seeing patients free.
''Lots of the families are low socio-economic round here, and
they are charged a lot lower fee, especially big families.''
Discretion was exercised across all age groups.
The practice's official fee for the 6-17 age group was $33.
Southern Primary Health Organisation chief executive Ian
Macara said the wide variation reflected the fact GPs
operated as businesses: the health system was a ''strange
mix'' of socialism and capitalism.
''It's a bit weird but we're stuck with the system.''
There were rules governing how much a practice could, if it
chose, increase prices per year, he said.
Mr Macara believed it was getting tougher for families to
afford medical care.
''I think personally for some patients in the lower
socio-economic groups healthcare is becoming a cost that
they're looking at more and more closely.''