Dunedin GPs join move to bigger medical centres

Planning for change . . . Gathering to look over plans for amalgamation later this month are ...
Planning for change . . . Gathering to look over plans for amalgamation later this month are (from left) Aurora Health Centre doctors Janice Jensen, Jill McIlraith and Susan Johns, South City Medical Centre doctors Sandy Ross and John Mills, and business development consultant Andrew Tucker, of Tucker Consulting. Photo by Brenda Harwood
The planned amalgamation of Dunedin general medical practices Aurora Health Centre and South City Medical Centre is part of a growing national trend.

''There has been a definite trend towards practice amalgamations for some time, but that has accelerated recently,'' Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners president Dr Tim Malloy said.

''A number of GPs have determined that the business model, care and workforce requirements mean they need to work in larger practices.''

The amalgamated health centre, to be known as Aurora Health Centre and owned by Aurora South Medical Ltd, will open later this month in Macandrew Rd, South Dunedin.

It will join the smaller practice of GPs Dr Sandy Ross and Dr John Mills, who have delivered medicine together for the past 30 years, with the larger structure of Aurora, which has six doctors, a registrar, a team of nurses, and a practice manager, providing a 3.2 full time equivalent (FTE) GP service.

The practice will incorporate eight doctors and a registrar, most of whom will work part-time as GPs - delivering about 5.2 FTEs - while also pursuing other medical areas.

The centre will also incorporate allied health professionals, such as counsellors and osteopaths, and will provide care for about 6000 patients.

Aurora Health Centre founding partner Dr Jill McIlraith said economies of scale, the opportunity to practice medicine in teams, and succession planning all played a part in the amalgamation.

''We don't necessarily want to be a very large practice, but to have enough people and support in a professional sense so that ultimately our patients have someone looking after them for the next 10 or 20 years,'' she said.

Dr Mills believed a structure which allowed female doctors to have families and work part-time, or encouraged older doctors to extend their careers, would be important.

Southern PHO figures show Dunedin has a wide range of medical practices, from seven practices with a one or 1.1 FTE GP service, catering for fewer than 2000 patients, through to two practices with more than 10 FTE GPs, catering for up to 20,000 patients.

Southern PHO chief executive Ian Macara said there would always be a market for a full range of practices but that it was important that issues such as the ageing workforce, succession planning and ongoing sustainability were addressed.

Many doctors had worked successfully in the small-practice model for many years and there was no particular reason for them to change, Dr Malloy said.

''However, having an expectation that someone would want to `take over' the practice in the future may be unrealistic,'' he said.

Patients of larger practices might need to adapt to having more of a relationship with a team of practitioners.

''However, it is hoped that the working career longevity of individual doctors may increase as the individual burden on them decreases.''

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