GPs reassured over rural health funding changes

General practices facing a major rural funding shake-up are being reassured by the Southern District Health Board.

New funding rules to be phased in from July could end top-up rural funding for districts with more than 15,000 people, affecting Queenstown and possibly other Otago centres. However, no decisions have been made yet about how the rules would be applied in the South.

A report to a health board subcommittee last week prepared by staff said the shake-up gave the board flexibility in allocating funding across the district.

Confirmation of the change last week prompted Queenstown Medical Centre to issue a statement criticising the health board for not consulting GPs.

Health board planning and funding director Sandra Boardman said no decisions had been made yet, and there would be no sudden changes to funding, as transitional funds were available.

The key decisions would be made by the southern health alliance leadership team, the new joint committee established last year to improve community health services.

Mrs Boardman acknowledged the situation was ''a bit confusing''. There was no time frame for decisions.

Asked if practices could go out of business, she said that was the ''last thing'' the health board wanted.

''The DHB is really keen to support all our practices. Our general practices are the touch point for all of our population, in terms of accessing healthcare, and we can't afford to lose any of them,'' Mrs Boardman said.

In the press statement, Queenstown Medical Centre said Queenstown's rural status should not be removed unless Lakes District Hospital had a significant upgrade in service level.

If it went ahead, the loss of status could affect services at the hospital, as well as in general practice, it said.

The health board had not sufficiently consulted GPs about the forthcoming change.

Adoption of the principle was not mandatory, and the decision rested with the southern health alliance leadership team, the medical centre said.

General practices within 30km or 30 minutes of a base hospital might also lose funding under the changes.

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