Set to take place 23 – 26 April 2020, more than one thousand GPs and health professionals will gather in Auckland for the WONCA2020 APR conference. 

Jointly hosted by the College and the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, WONCA APR Conference 2020 will combine the strengths of both the Conference for General Practice and the Rural General Practice Conference, making it one of the leading primary care conferences in New Zealand in 2020.  This event will replace the College and Rural General Practice Network conferences in 2020. 

Call for abstracts and registrations are now open with early bird rates available up until 20 December 2019. Check the conference website for more details and to register.

WONCA recently caught up with Distinguished Fellow, Professor Les Toop from the WONCA2020 organising committee. Les answered questions about his time as a GP, general practice in New Zealand what his hopes for the conference were. Read the full interview below.

Photo credit: Tom Mangin 

What work do you do?

I trained in the United Kingdom (Bristol) and first came to New Zealand in 1978 as a final year medical student. I currently work in a few different roles which keeps me busy, but I love it. 

For the last 32 years, I’ve worked part-time as a GP at Ferry Road Medical Centre in Christchurch where I am also a partner – I’ve spent a similar amount of time as an academic at the University of Otago where until recently I was Head of the Department of General Practice. Free of administration I continue to be involved in both research, undergraduate, continuing education and in advocacy. 

I’ve been involved in various Governance roles – at Pegasus Health (one of the New Zealand’s largest general practice networks/Primary Health Organisations) as chair 2014 – 2018, and was involved in setting up the Peer-Led Interdisciplinary Continuing Education Programme 25 years ago that’s now delivered in many parts of New Zealand. I also sit on the Alliance Leadership Team of the Canterbury Clinical Network and I have roles on a number of national quality focussed organisations.

What other interesting things have you done?

As a youngster I travelled extensively through Europe, South America and during a trip up through Africa in the early 1980s, I did a short stint relieving a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal which was a very rapid learning experience. I’ve recently returned from a sabbatical in Denmark where I worked on national quality initiatives and had the opportunity to meet with many Danish GPs and share experiences, surprisingly similar issues to New Zealand.

I’ve been involved in promoting the rational use of medicines for over 30 years, which has involved designing and delivering educational material and significant advocacy to counter misleading promotion both to prescribers and to the public. 

Along with almost all health professional bodies and many national consumer advocacy organisations, I am actively involved in pushing for greater independent consumer health information, and a ban of direct to consumer advertising for prescription medicines (DTCA) which is only permitted in the US and in New Zealand.

What is general practice like in New Zealand?

My 30+ years working in New Zealand as a GP has been both fun and a real privilege. It’s mostly organised on similar lines to northern European countries (in primary care teams and with GPs as gatekeepers to much of secondary care), but there are a number of other uniquely NZ ways of working such as the well-established Whānau Ora.

The healthcare system in New Zealand is working hard to improve equity for our indigenous population (Māori) and other minority groups. We’re currently halfway through a health reform which will likely introduce new statutory and strategic commitments to Māori health and to foster greater community engagement. 

New Zealand faces many of the same issues as similar countries - increasing demand and complexity in an ageing population, with an ageing workforce. Our GP teams and others working in primary care are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to evolve the way we deliver care to better match the needs and expectations of the populations we care for.

What are your hopes for the WONCA Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Auckland?

I hope the WONCA conference in Auckland (city of sails) will be a great opportunity to bring family doctors and others from far and wide together to share experiences, present their work and to discuss the important and urgent issues which are, or will affect the health of our patients. There will be a particular focus on equity, adapting to change and embracing appropriate new technologies whilst maintaining the enduring values of what makes personalised family care so important. We will also focus on the very important issue of the effects of climate change. 

What are your interests at work and privately?

Professionally my interests are in continuing to contribute to designing more integrated health services, promoting the concept of choosing wisely and in advocating for a healthier environment where people are able to make healthy choices.  Outside of work, I’m quite outdoorsy – I enjoy tramping, skiing and mountain biking so I’m living in the perfect country for that! When I’m not too busy, I enjoy woodworking and gardening.