10 Jan 2011

After-hours clinic costs 'push patients to hospitals'

8:47 pm on 10 January 2011

Waitemata and Auckland District Health Boards have had a surge in patient admissions to hospital over the holiday period as people try to save money on doctors' bills.

Waitemata DHB experienced a 25% increase in December last year compared with 2009, while Auckland DHB had a 15% jump in admissions.

Both DHBs say many people choose the hospital's free emergency department to save on the expense of a visit to an after-hours medical centre, which can cost at least $70.

Waitemata District Health Board's chief medical officer Dr Andrew Brant says a large proportion of people were suffering from coughs and colds, or were needing new prescriptions.

The DHB says there is a shortage of GPs in the area, and few are open during the holidays.

Low cost clinics planned

Auckland's three district health boards and the region's primary healthcare organisations have been developing a plan to make after-hours medical care cheaper.

Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Geirant Martin says they're working on providing a network of 10 low cost after-hours clinics.

Mr Martin says there will be different needs for different parts of Auckland, for example Counties Manukau will be aiming to provide free treatment to children under the age of six.

Medical Association chair Dr Peter Foley says GP practices should be better funded to provide after-hours services.