'Distressing news' for patients with skin conditions

Hamish Brown
Hamish Brown
People with serious skin conditions are no longer able to be seen by a specialist, even if GPs deem it necessary, the Southern health system has confirmed.

Health New Zealand — Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) Southern said it is "actively seeking" dermatologists to staff Dunedin and Southland hospitals, but has so far been unable to provide even temporary cover.

HNZ Southern group director of operations Hamish Brown said no outpatient referrals would be accepted until the dermatology service was revived.

Outpatient appointments were also off the table.

"We know that this news will be distressing to those patients who are affected."

Dermatologists were a very small and specialised workforce — throughout the entire public health system they only numbered about 30 people, or 22 fulltime equivalent staff, he said.

"The South Island has had long-standing vacancies within the dermatology workforce and the locum dermatologists that were covering Dunedin and Southland Hospitals have stepped back from providing this cover.

"We are actively seeking locum cover for these vacancies and continue to recruit permanent dermatologists."

This follows the loss of two contractors who had been travelling to the South from elsewhere in the country to provide dermatology services, reported by the ODT earlier this week.

A retired Southern dermatologist said the situation had been brewing for a long time, and for years prior to his resignation in 2022, no real attempt had been made to hire more dermatologists.

A letter from the Southern District Health Board in 2018 said management would not boost dermatology funding, as demands from other services meant difficult decisions had to be made.

He also criticised the health system for pushing more work on to GPs, who lacked the resources and training to handle it.

Mr Brown said access to publicly funded dermatology was challenging nationwide.

HNZ Southern was aware that in the past staff had advocated for more capacity for dermatology services.

The organisation was working to address the situation, and looked forward to being able to offer appointments again as soon as possible.

"We have notified our primary care colleagues and encourage patients to see their family doctor while we recruit.

"Patients who receive medication in hospital for their dermatological condition will continue to receive their treatment."

HNZ Southern was working with primary health network WellSouth to provide continued support for patients who received their treatments in the community, he said.