GP problem more chronic than acute

The shortage of GPs in Balclutha, which is likely to cause lengthy waits for patients, is symptomatic of the long-standing problem of attracting, and retaining, doctors in rural areas, a health administrator said yesterday.

Colleen Fenton, Balclutha General Practitioners Ltd practice manager, was responding to questions about yesterday's Otago Daily Times report in which Clutha Health First manager Ray Anton predicted some patients might have to wait up to seven days to see a doctor next month.

Mrs Fenton said the perception of Balclutha as an isolated rural location, that was remote and away from the attractions of Queenstown and Wanaka, with a cold climate, did nothing to entice prospective doctors.

Three of the doctors who left the practice recently had come from overseas on short-term contracts, she said.

"We had people in place to replace those doctors, but ... there were obstacles."

Issues with retaining rural doctors were the product of younger doctors not wishing to be tied up in a rural community and the perception they would constantly be on call, which was not the case, Mrs Fenton said.

"This leads to a lack of continuity of care, which is an issue we are well aware of, and trying desperately to resolve."

Clutha-Southland MP Bill English was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Mr English's electoral agent Alison McLeary confirmed people concerned about the situation had been coming to the MP's office.

Most complaints centred around "the lack of continuity of care", with people having to repeat their medical history to new doctors and being prescribed different medication than they had been given previously, she said.

While the doctor shortage was not strictly a government issue, Mr English and Health Minister Tony Ryall were aware of the situation, she said.

When contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, Mr Ryall said while there had been no direct correspondence with his office about Balclutha's GP shortage, he was aware there were pressure points, particularly around small towns and rural areas.

"We are working with the rural GP network to fill spaces, and that is the reality of the situation the Government has inherited," Mr Ryall said.



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