Overloaded healthcare providers close doors to new patients

Rolleston Central Health. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Rolleston Central Health. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Selwyn’s exploding population and a nationwide shortage of GPs is causing a perfect storm for residents wanting to access primary healthcare.

Rolleston’s two medical centres have both closed their books to new enrolments, forcing new patients to travel to Lincoln or further afield.

Deb Devon.
Deb Devon.
Rolleston Central Health practice administrator Deb Devon said the centre made the difficult decision to temporarily close its books last month, after having the “incredibly high” number of 400 new patients enrolling in just three months.

“Prior to this, one of our full-time doctors returned to their home country due to Covid, and we have been unable to replace her due to a nationwide GP shortage,” Devon said.

The centre, with eight GPs, had the capacity to take many more new patients but needed to recruit more doctors. It was hoping to do this soon.

The shortage of GPs in Rolleston had been affected by the shortage of GPs coming to New Zealand in the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

Rolleston Medical Centre practice manager Vicki Bool said the centre, with 10 GPs, closed its books to new patients about 18 months ago.

“You have only got so much space and so many doctors,” Bool said.

The Rolleston Medical Centre. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The Rolleston Medical Centre. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The centre was referring any new patients to Lincoln.

WeCare Health, at Lincoln and Wigram, confirmed it was still accepting new patients, and welcomed residents from Rolleston. Lincoln Medical Centre confirmed it also welcomed patients from Rolleston. Darfield Medical Centre, which also operates West Melton Medical Centre, says on its website that all new enrolments are currently waitlisted until further notice.

Rolleston residents are finding it difficult to access primary healthcare locally as doctors close their books.

One woman, who moved to Burnham from Auckland three weeks ago, was referred to WeCare Health at Lincoln, but found there was no discount for using a Community Services card for regular appointments. WeCare confirmed it only offered Community Services card discounts for ACC consults.

The woman, who was currently job-seeking and did not want to be named, said she had mental health issues and being able to secure a good doctor was important to her.

“It’s a bit scary really, the thought of not having somebody local,” she said.

The Selwyn Health Hub in Rolleston will help meet the primary healthcare needs of residents...
The Selwyn Health Hub in Rolleston will help meet the primary healthcare needs of residents facing a dire shortage of GPs. Photo: Geoff Sloan
A friend suggested Halswell, so she would be now be taking 50km round trips to see her doctor there. She was looking forward to the opening of the Selwyn Health Hub at Rolleston, which will have a general practice as part of its facilities.

“As soon as that place opens I will be in there like a shot, I don’t want to travel 25 kilometres,” she said.

The district council is expecting to have the health hub ready for tenants to begin their fit-outs in May. However, it is unknown when the general practice will open and how many doctors it will have.

Group manager property Douglas Marshall said the timing of when tenants opened would depend on when they had completed their fit-outs and any other requirements.

“The council has had interest from a number of parties in becoming the hub’s general practice and those discussions are ongoing,” Marshall said.

The number of GPs was “all part of the discussion with the potential tenants.”

“We are waiting to finalise details so at this time cannot confirm numbers,” Marshall said.

Two medical centres are on the drawing board for Prebbleton, set to be part of new building projects. The centres are expected to see about five GPs based in the town, which currently has no doctors there.

Canterbury District Health Board acting executive director planning, funding and decision support Ralph La Salle said the board was aware there were primary care access issues in Canterbury, including sourcing locum cover.

“Our primary care partners are working with general practice teams in Canterbury to find solutions,” he said.

Over the past 10 years Selwyn has been the second-fastest growing district in New Zealand, growing from 42,900 in 2011 to an estimated 71,500 this year. By 2031 the district population is forecast to reach nearly 90,000.

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