South Auckland GP shortage highlighted in report to Parliament

7:32 pm on 22 March 2023
A doctor holds a clipboard.

The Medical Council of New Zealand’s workforce survey in 2021 showed Counties Manukau had the biggest shortage of GPs in the country. Photo: 123rf

A shortage of 127 GPs in Counties Manukau could put increased pressure on under-strain healthcare services, according to a report.

The data was released as part of an annual review of Te Whatu Ora (Counties Manukau) by Parliament's health select committee.

The report states: "We believe that the district has a shortfall of 127 GPs already, and with population growth, this situation could worsen.

"Workforce shortages are a key threat to general practice's ability to provide a full range of accessible, high-quality health services. The future of primary care cannot be solely dependent upon attracting more GPs to work in South Auckland."

The report also highlighted the ongoing shortages of nurses, pharmacists, social workers, physiotherapists and enhanced care paramedics in the area.

It said such healthcare workers were needed to help reduce the number of patients being referred to hospital-based specialists and increase the number of people cared for in the community.

It comes on the back of a nationwide survey by the General Practice Owners Association of New Zealand (GenPro) released on Wednesday that found 53 percent of practices have reduced services due to chronic workforce shortages and underfunding.

According to the study, only 45 percent of family doctors surveyed said they were accepting new enrolments.

GenPro chief executive Philip Grant said the situation was desperate and the survey highlighted how tough it was for primary healthcare providers that were struggling to find and retain doctors and nurses to deliver health services.

"The reality is people are having to wait longer to see their family doctor and that is having knock-on effects on people's health as well as in our after hours' and emergency departments.

"This is a significant worry as we head into a winter which experts are predicting will be particularly challenging."

Papakura GP Dr Primla Khar said the figures highlighted in the health select committee report were "quite disturbing".

"But I think it might even be understating the real shortage of doctors," she said.

And Khar said too many doctors in South Auckland were already overworked and burnt-out.

She agreed with the GenPro survey's findings and said providing additional advice and oversight to patients with diseases like diabetes, as well as preventative medicine, could "take a backseat" if GPs are forced to prioritise.

"What GPs would do is address acute care first."

Khar said there needed to be more funding for primary healthcare providers to make becoming a GP more attractive to young doctors, as well as an increase in the number of people training in our medical schools.

She said her own practice was still taking on new patients, but it had to carefully manage numbers.

The Medical Council of New Zealand's workforce survey in 2021 showed Counties Manukau had the biggest shortage of GPs in the country.

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