Av­er­age age a grow­ing con­cern

Short­age looms as many GPs ap­proach re­tire­ment

South Waikato News - - AGE AWARENESS WEEK -

New Zealand GPs are not get­ting any younger; a fact caus­ing con­cern among those in the health in­dus­try.

Del­e­gates at the Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence were warned last week that all at­tempts to at­tract and re­tain high qual­ity health work­ers to New Zealand will be in­ef­fec­tive un­less the loom­ing GP short­age is ad­dressed.

Pin­na­cle Gen­eral Prac­tice Net­work pop­u­la­tion health ad­viser Janet Amey told del­e­gates at Tu­ran­gawae­wae Marae, Ngaru­awahia, that the num­ber of young doc­tors New Zealand is at­tract­ing to be­come GPs is not high enough to off­set the num­ber ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment.

In Toko­roa the av­er­age age of GPs is about 62. The old­est of the seven work­ing GP is 72, the youngest 53.

In Pu­taruru the town’s five GPs are be­tween 33 and 57 years of age.

‘‘New Zealand’s doc­tors are age­ing fast. The per­cent­age of GPs in our net­work aged 55 and over has in­creased five per cent to 25 per cent in just three years,’’ she said.

Pin­na­cle en­com­passes the four mid­land district health board ar­eas of Gis­borne, Lakes, Waikato and Taranaki – con­tain­ing a pop­u­la­tion of al­most half a mil­lion.

While the Govern­ment has in­creased the num­ber of places for stu­dents in med­i­cal school and es­tab­lished Health Work­force New Zealand this is not enough to ad­dress the GP short­age Ms Amey said.

‘‘We now very much rely on im­mi­grant doc­tors to prop up our pri­mary health care sys­tem.

‘‘More than half the doc­tors in Pin­na­cle were trained over­seas – 54 per cent,’’ she said.

‘‘That means we are com­pet­ing with very at­trac­tive over­seas work­ing desti­na­tions for the skills of these peo­ple.

‘‘Even so, on av­er­age they are not par­tic­u­larly young – 40 to 49 – and none of them work in ru­ral ar­eas that are des­per­ate for gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers.’’

Ms Amey said two other trends com­pli­cate the scene. ‘‘There are many more young women doc­tors now which is great but many of them have young fam­i­lies and do not want to work full­time.

‘‘Se­condly, as GPs are age­ing so too is the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. In 2006 about 30 per cent of con­sul­ta­tions were with over 65-year olds. We pre­dict that in 2021 that will grow to about 38 per cent.

‘‘That means a higher de­mand for con­sul­ta­tions but many will be more com­plex and take longer as older peo­ple seek help to man­age their chronic con­di­tions,’’ she said.

Al­low­ing gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers to work past re­tire­ment age, per­haps on a part time ba­sis, is a pos­si­ble way of re­tain­ing spe­cial­ist skills and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ms Amey said while the fo­cus has been on the work­force short­age in hos­pi­tals, es­pe­cially a dearth of spe­cial­ist hos­pi­tal staff – it is the pri­mary sec­tor that most peo­ple in­ter­act with.

‘‘The pri­mary sec­tor is the gate­keeper for the flow of peo­ple into hos­pi­tals and if that doesn’t work prop­erly then hos­pi­tals are go­ing to be swamped with pa­tients,’’ she said.

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