13 Jun 2012

Outspoken Maori GP resignation causes concern

8:35 pm on 13 June 2012

The resignation of a popular Maori GP from a Maori health organisation is causing consternation in the Far North.

Lance O'Sullivan has resigned from Te Hauora o Te Hiku o Te Ika following differences with the management.

There has been speculation that the Kaitaia GP's many public comments about Maori poverty and hunger may have upset government funding authorities.

But Haami Piripi, chairman of northern iwi Te Rarawa, says he understands the issue was Dr O'Sullivan's refusal to accept Te Hauora o Te Hiku o Te Ika's policy of turning away patients who could not pay.

Mr Piripi says the Kaitaia GP takes his Hippocratic Oath very seriously, while the priority of Hauora management is to keep its accounts straight.

He says the Far North cannot afford to lose someone of Dr O'Sullivan's calibre and the runanga will do all it can to keep him in Kaitaia in a new role.

Teacher and single parent Vaniva Lewis says the fees of $30 to $50 are beyond the reach of many whanau, while similar health organisations have minimal or no fees.

GP association says many waive fees

The professional body representing GPs says doctors throughout the country are waiving fees for patients who can't afford to pay.

The acting president of the College of General Practitioners says he has great sympathy for Lance O'Sullivan's situation.

Tim Molloy says all GPs working in rural communities at a time of recession know that even a low fee is beyond the means of some people.

He says almost all doctors carry bad debt - that is, accounts they know will never be paid and routinely treat some patients without charging a fee because the person can't afford it.

Dr Molloy says Lance O'Sullivan is a great doctor and it is sad that he has felt it necessary to resign from the clinic.

However, he says he also has sympathy for the practice because despite the subsidies it receives, it still needs to collect a co-charge from patients to meet the cost of providing the service.