The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (the College) is discouraged by today’s budget.
“The New Zealand Heath Strategy released in April 2016 indicated the government’s intention to grow the capacity of primary health,” says College President Dr Tim Malloy. “We were hoping this budget would reflect this increased emphasis.”
Dr Malloy says there is nothing in the budget that addresses the looming GP shortage and nothing to help low income, high needs patients access primary care.
“We’ve been warning the government of a looming GP shortage for some time now, but those warnings seem to have gone unheeded, with no obvious funding to train more GPs. Nearly half of the country’s GPs (44 percent) plan to retire within the next 10 years. It takes 11 years minimum to train as a GP, so it’s urgent we start training tomorrow’s doctors today,” he says.
This year, the College has had a record 276 doctors apply to enrol in the College’s GP training programme. “I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll find enough funding to train all eligible candidates. We are currently training around 190 doctors a year, and we need to train 300 to keep up with the demands of our growing, ageing population.”
The GP shortage is making it more difficult for patients to see a doctor, with some practices being forced to close their patient books because they simply can’t take on any extra patients.
“And then, there is the elephant in the room. The 500,000 Kiwis who can’t see a GP because they can’t afford to. The current health funding system, specifically the Very Low Cost Access scheme, is failing our low income, high needs patients. This is a national embarrassment and we can’t let this issue go ignored any longer.
“The College has been calling for a review of health funding for years. We would like to see funding following the patient, rather than the health service or health practitioner. This way support will reach those most in need,” he says.
The College provides training and ongoing professional development for GPs and rural hospital generalists. It sets quality standards for general practices which ensures they are able to provide the best possible care for their patients.