The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners is concerned about comments made by the judiciary regarding the importance of protections of health services provided in the community.
The judge’s comments imply that GPs are dealing with a different set of patients from those who turn up in emergency departments and therefore the protections can be different.
In a Stuff article discussing a challenge to the vaccination mandates, Justice Cooke said he could "see a particularly strong argument when those who had to access health services and had underlying health issues may expect a zero tolerance if they had to go to the emergency department, but it would be less powerful for a general practitioner or physiotherapist."
Crown law defence Daniel Jones states, "GPs might not be dealing with the most acute cases but had a range of people coming into the surgeries where many may be old or vulnerable."
College President Dr Samantha Murton says, "With 94 percent of New Zealanders enrolled with their local general practice, we are the first point of contact for community health care concerns. Those health care concerns are often as undifferentiated as what turns up in an emergency department and pose as much risk in the community as in hospital settings.
"Our rural GPs and rural hospital doctors who provide the equivalent of an emergency department in their region are also dealing with more serious illnesses and injuries on a regular basis and are often serving our most vulnerable populations."
The general practice workforce has been working on the frontline of the pandemic since it began in 2020 and have been integral to every part of the response; vaccination, swabbing and more recently COVID care in the community - and this is on top of business-as-usual care for patients.
"Patients attending our services would also expect to have zero tolerance for unvaccinated health workers as they would anywhere else.
"Because of the amount of contact we have with patients we need to be as protected as possible to ensure the safety of our patients, communities, and colleagues. No patient would expect to be at risk of catching COVID in any health service.
"Vaccination is the best line of defense to keep our communities safe and the numbers of medical professionals who contract COVID-19 as low as possible. Keeping clinics open for our patients is our priority," says Dr Murton.
The College spoke in support of the mandates for healthcare workers last year saying the people who work in these sectors are working in close contact with our most vulnerable members of the community, those who are too young to be vaccinated or who have underlying medical conditions.