Policy on children's health criticised by GP

Susie Lawless.
Susie Lawless.
Improving housing and nutrition would do more good for children than giving them free doctors' visits, Dunedin GP Susie Lawless says.

The Budget contained the surprise announcement GP visits and pharmacy scripts would be free for children under 13 from July next year.

Dr Lawless would have preferred a comprehensive public health programme, rather than a single policy.

''Just throwing it into the Budget does smack of electioneering, rather than a considered plan.

''There has been a significant barrier to attendance that comes in at the 6-year-old threshold when they have to start paying.

''There is no particular logic to increasing funding for this particular group, but overall anything that increases access to primary health care is a good move, as international research is clear that a primary care-driven system improves outcomes and reduces costs at a population level.''

The reaction of her colleagues at Amity Health Centre had been somewhat mixed, she said.

Dr Lawless believed too many New Zealanders were living in poverty, on less than a ''living wage''.

Balclutha GP Branko Sijnja, who is also New Zealand Medical Association president, said he wanted to see more targeted assistance to those most in need, rather than universal entitlements.

He believed some people were really struggling who fell just short of qualifying for other government assistance.

It was crucial the scheme was adequately funded, as GPs could not sustain further financial pressure.

It would be for individual practices to decide whether to join, or continue to charge. Times were much tougher now for general practice, he suggested.

''We've run into times where practices are going broke.

''We've never, ever in the past known of practices going broke, but it's happening now.''

The allocation - $90 million over three years - did not look like a lot of money, he said.

More detail was needed before practices could decide whether to buy into the scheme, There was little scope for adult fees to subsidise the children's service, as they were already high in many practices, he said.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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