Low cost, high love at doctor's

Dr Rama T Ragupathy and his wife Villi in Dunedin yesterday underneath their motto: "Love All...
Dr Rama T Ragupathy and his wife Villi in Dunedin yesterday underneath their motto: "Love All Serve All''. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Dunedin's first low-cost medical practice is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

For many years Dr Rama T. Ragupathy provided free medical care before introducing a $10 charge.

His wife and practice manager, Villi Ragupathy, said those who could not pay were still seen.

Dr Ragupathy qualified as a doctor in 1971 and spent the first 25 years of his career in hospitals.

The couple moved to Dunedin in 1991, and Dr Ragupathy initially worked at Dunedin Hospital.

They had moved to New Zealand from Africa in 1987, and Dr Ragupathy worked in hospitals in Auckland and Northland for a few years.

``We fell in love with this place,'' Mrs Ragupathy said of Dunedin.

Dr Ragupathy entered specialist training to be a psychiatrist, but opted for general practice when he decided psychiatry was not for him.

Encouraged by former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson, the couple set up the Community Support Medical Centre in George St in November 1997.

``We were targeting the low income but we never said `no' to the working people and higher income.''

``If they are willing, they can give an extra donation,'' Mrs Ragupathy said.

The pair, originally from Sri Lanka, say their Hindu faith was an influence on them.

They want to give back to the community and help people.

``As long as we can pay our bills, pay the staff, and we have enough to eat.

``We don't need big luxury cars,'' Mrs Ragupathy said.

Dr Ragupathy said New Zealand's high GP charges were a barrier for many patients.

He preferred not to have his age published, but was ``past retirement age'', with no plans to retire.

``Work is keeping us busy,'' he told the Otago Daily Times.

``As long as we are mentally and physically active we want to carry on,'' Mrs Ragupathy said.

Her husband was a dedicated doctor who was unhappy if any of his patients needed anything.

``My husband is not really willing to go on holidays because he's wanting to make sure everything is done right.''

However the couple are grateful to locums Dr Tania Phillips and Dr Penny Kagan, who ensured they could have time off sometimes.

``It's good to take a break,'' Mrs Ragupathy said.

There are now three low-cost practices in Dunedin; one of them, Te Kaika, opened last month.

Having other low-cost practices in the city helped lighten the load on Dr Ragupathy, who sees about 15 patients per day.

The practice was officially designated a Very Low Cost Access scheme in 2004 under a scheme started by the then Labour Government.

The new Labour Government is promising another shake-up to ensure more low income people can afford GP care.

Dr Ragupathy was awaiting details of the changes.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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