Only half of medical clinics enrolling patients

Healthcare assistant Stacey Grant guides Briar Adams in the use of a health kiosk at Saddle View...
Healthcare assistant Stacey Grant guides Briar Adams in the use of a health kiosk at Saddle View Health Centre yesterday. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Southern medical clinics continue to struggle as the demand for enrolments outstrips supply amid the major concern of a diminishing workforce.

Healthpoint figures accessed by the Otago Daily Times yesterday showed just half of southern practices listed overall were categorised as enrolling new patients.

It was a figure almost identical to last January, although there were regional shifts.

Dunedin had improved, 14 clinics now accepting new patients compared with eight last year, but in Waitaki the number dropped from seven to three.

South Link chief executive Karl Andrews said he was unsurprised by the overall figure, due to the ongoing issues facing general practices.

Primary care had to compete for nurses with higher-level care, and the number of doctors leaving general practice — forecast to be 30% within the next five-10 years — was a "major concern", Mr Andrews said.

The current funding model was 25 years old and based on patient population.

"Basically, everyone in primary health feels it’s underfunded ... We’re sort of the forgotten part of healthcare at the moment.

"It’s the waiting game at the moment with the new government, waiting to see where they’re going with the new funding model."

He hoped they would recognise the need to invest in primary care.

Yesterday’s Healthpoint statics showed the Dunedin-South Otago area had 25 options in the "enrolling new patients" category, compared with 20 last January.

In Southland there were 12 options, down from 13.

For Central Lakes — which includes Central Otago, Wanaka and Queenstown — the number remained at 12.

In Oamaru, South Link’s South Hill Medical Centre was the only practice letting new people on to its books yesterday.

Other practices owned or part-owned by South Link include Dunedin’s Meridian Medical Centre, Gardens Medical Centre and Saddle View Health Centre, which are all listed as enrolling new patients.

Mr Andrews said demand was fairly constant as South Link sought to fill spots as patients moved away, or died.

"Those practices, certainly within our group, that have had their books closed over the last year, year and a-half, have seen a decline in patient numbers."

Mornington Health Centre general manager Marian Rillstone said the lifting of Covid restrictions had led to a better workflow in the past year, and new doctors would potentially join the Dunedin clinic after building renovations were finished.

"Potentially, we will be able to have open books later in the year.

"We already take new patients on in a case-by-case manner," she said.

WellSouth Primary Health Network clinical director Carole Atmore said there was an ongoing lack of GPs nationwide, especially in more rural areas like the South.

The organisation supported workforce training to attract and retain clinical and non-clinical staff, and was advocating for a dedicated workforce development strategy.

"We would, of course, like to see more general practices able to enrol, but there are still options for people and we encourage them to contact WellSouth and we can assist."