Up to 8-week wait for doctor's appointment in Dunedin

Photo: File
Photo: File
It is taking up to eight weeks for some Dunedin people to get an appointment with their doctor.

The city has more GPs than many areas but Covid is putting already stretched services under more pressure, and many practices are turning away new patients as they're at capacity.

Otago University student Grace McKee Cagney said some post-Covid lung problems prompted her to seek an appointment with a GP.

"I've tried to go through Student Health and any time you try to get an appointment through them, if you want to see a GP it's like a three-week wait. And with GPs outside of Student Health, I've found no one is really wanting to take on new patients because they're all fully booked up," she said.

"It feels almost impossible to actually get access to a GP at the minute."

She described the difficulty of getting an appointment as atrocious.

After explaining the nature of her problem to a nurse, she had now managed to get an appointment through Student Health's respiratory clinic.

But without her persistence she would have been unlikely to secure a spot or even find out the clinic existed, she said.

"I know a lot of students who just straight up don't like going to the doctor because it's so hard to even get on the phone sometimes with someone at Student Health - that it's completely off-putting to a lot of students to get that help even if they do desperately need it."

The problem was not just affecting students.

There were reports of people who moved to the city remaining with their GP in their previous hometown due to the difficulty of finding an opening at a practice.

Age Concern Otago elder abuse response service team leader Marie Bennett said she had heard some shocking wait times for appointments.

"Many of our GP practices have their books full and are not taking on new patients, so a lot of people who have moved to Dunedin are having difficulty getting into a GP office.

"The other thing I heard was a lady in her 70s who told me she had to wait eight weeks for an appointment."

Many older people preferred to wait to see their GP rather than see another doctor.

Many also feared the risk of catching Covid by visiting a doctor.

Bennett said she feared increased difficulty in securing an appointment might put some off seeking needed care.

"It's critical that they have a GP. They cannot get any health services without having a GP. They can't get an assessment for meals on wheels or home support or anything unless there's a GP who refers them."

Te Kāika chief executive Albie Laurence said their practice had seen patients in recent months who could not get an appointment with their regular GP or find an opening with a practice.

"We do get those patients because they tend to come to us if there's not any practices taking on patients. We have same-day availability or next-day availability for routine appointments and we have a population group that on average will demand more service because they have a higher burden of disease."

WellSouth Practice Network Director Paul Rowe said the system was stretched before Covid-19, but it had exacerbated those issues.

"There is workforce pressure across the health system, and, like most places, we'd welcome more clinical resources. But Dunedin is better resourced than many other locations for general practitioners," he said.

"Rural practices, here and elsewhere, in particular, have a more challenging time recruiting new staff.

"Most general practices are under pressure from Covid-related workloads and due to workforce constraints, including staff and families isolating from time to time.

"We work with practices to ensure that people can enrol and they have the capacity to see patients when required. We encourage people to try and find the care provider that best meets their needs and the needs of their whānau. It might not always be possible to enrol with your closest or first choice GP, but I am confident that people in Dunedin can enrol in a practice here in town.

"If there are issues with accessing care, we would want to hear about it and we would investigate if extensive delays are brought to our attention."

 

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