When politicians and officials put their feet up this Christmas, Dr. Tim Malloy being by his phone waiting to be called to a crisis.
The Wellsford GP has not had an undisturbed Christmas holiday for 15 years. “Our workload doubles or triples over the Christmas period. A crisis is happening, I have to go back… Holidays are not an option for many of us, especially when we are tied into 24-hour care.”
Malloy is chairman of GenPro, the General Practitioners Association, which is launching a major campaign today to shine a spotlight on the “soul-wracking” working conditions faced by GPs and to promote better access to care.
The group, which represents more than 400 general practices across the country, also releases a report titled “On The Brink,” which outlines the urgent need to address pay parity for GPs and physicians, increase the workforce, and increase resource allocations improve for practices.
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The call comes as Helen Celia, a woman from Christchurch, observed a worker at an after-hours clinic climb onto a table to ask anyone not in need of urgent care to leave.
Celia was at the “completely full” clinic with her 7-year-old son Ethan after he cut his thumb on a can of peaches.
While her boy was well taken care of, Celia said the couple were there for five hours on a Monday night before staff could tape his wound back together.
“Around 8 or 9 p.m., one of the staff got up on the table and made an announcement – if you’re not here because of an emergency, come to me and we can see if you can go home right away,” Celia said.
“Staff did their best, but demand far outstripped supply.”
Malloy said these desperate tactics were humiliating for doctors.
“It’s beyond humbling, it’s soul destroying and for some it’s too much. That’s why they gaze longingly at the $500,000 earnings in Queensland’s general practices… and frankly, it’s pretty hard to blame them for taking that perspective.
“None of us trained to provide less than satisfactory healthcare. We all struggle with ethics and morals too.”
dr Bryan Betty, medical director of the College of GPs, warns that unless labor shortages are addressed, the problems we are seeing now will be repeated every winter.
Around 1,000 general practitioners were missing from general practice, Malloy said, “because of the lost generation in the ’90s and 2000s.”
The number of doctors entering general practice is alarmingly low – according to the latest figures from the Medical Association, only 15 more general practitioners are practicing in June 2022 than in the previous year.
GenPro chief executive Philip Grant said preliminary results from 180 clinics surveyed showed more than half were not enrolling new patients. Access varied greatly depending on where you lived.
In the MidCentral region, for example, 90% of the practices covered by Think Hauora had closed their books, with only two practices in Palmerston North and one in Ōtaki still accepting patients.
Three Rivers Medical Center in Tairāwhiti still has nearly 20,000 patients, about half of whom are Māori.
Director-General Michelle Te Kira (Ngāti Porou) said she was forced to provide services to the most vulnerable populations with “significant underfunding”.
The report calls for three major improvements – fair pay, workforce levels and fair contracts for GPs.
In terms of pay, the report outlines the need for parity for general practice nurses — who earn, on average, $8,000 less than hospital nurses — as well as fair treatment for medical graduates and the elimination of penalties for doctors who choose to become general practitioners to become.
The staff recommendations call for an increase in the number of registrars, the removal of barriers to overseas-trained staff, and more capacity and skills in the GP workforce.
Finally, the report calls for better funded GP services, full funding for new services, developments and demand, and greater investment in frontline services.
GenPro would send Health Secretary Andrew Little the report on Monday.