Close the books or reduce patients
A nationwide doctor shortage is having implications for people in the Waikato.
Matamata Medical Centre has 7.5 full time equivalent doctors, for a patient roll of 14,700 people, including the 700 people enrolled with Raungaiti Marae Health Clinic.
Patients who don’t live locally are being asked to find another doctor in their own area, in order to ease the congestion.
Matamata Medical Centre Practice Manager Gillian Vincent says the medical centre has nine doctors, with an average 1960 patients per doctor, as some are part time.
The practice directors made a decision to gradually write to all patients without a local address and encourage them to find a doctor in their area.
‘‘I have written to people who live in Coromandel, Auckland, Taumarunui and Tauranga. There are multiple medical centres in those areas. When you are sick, you don’t want to have to hop in your car and travel for up to two hours to see your doctor. It’s just not good medical care.’’
So far 50 patients have received letters.
Vincent says the first patients to be contacted were under Dr Craig Campbell’s care who retired earlier this year. Vincent says each patient’s doctor is consulted before sending out the letter.
While she understands there will be mixed feelings for patients being asked to find a new doctor in their area, Vincent says the alternative is worse.
‘‘Our priority is to the people who live locally first and foremost. The other alternative is to close our books all together and that would be a tragedy for this community.
‘‘We appreciate that people get to know their doctor and it’s a very personal relationship and it’s hard changing and getting to know someone new.’’
‘‘The recommendation is 1500 patients for a rural GP. One doctor has 2200 patients, which is not a healthy workload.
‘‘The length of time for people to get an appointment, at its worst, is two-three days‘‘.
Vincent says the shortage of GPs is a nationwide issue. As far as the Matamata Medical Centre goes, it was lucky to have Dr Reuben Tomlinson, who replaced Dr Campbell.
She is currently negotiating with two other GPs in the US to join the practice.
Dr Tomlinson follows Dr Kelly Brennan who joined the centre last year, and Dr Dominique Hite, who joined just over two years ago.
‘‘We have doctors facing retirement in the next five to 10 years, so we will then face another uphill battle to replace them.’’
To help ease pressure the medical centre launched an urgent clinic, so if someone is really unwell they can speak with and be assessed by a nurse first, then referred to a doctor if need be.