Government GP funding increase welcomed amid weeks-long wait times

By Contributor

Dinnie Exodus says she recently had to wait three weeks to see her doctor. Photo / Supplied

By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Forbes

A woman who had to wait three weeks to see her doctor after contracting the flu says such delays have become far too common for many south Aucklanders.

"It's been like that for so long it has become the new normal," Manurewa resident Dinnie Exodus said.

"Sometimes when I've been to the doctor, even though I've booked an appointment on the phone, I have still had to wait three or four hours to be seen."

The Medical Council's workforce survey in 2021 showed Counties Manukau had just 6.7 percent of the country's GPs, despite having 11.7 percent of the country's population. That was the biggest shortfall in the country.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced on Tuesday plans to pay junior GPs up to 23 percent more in a bid to help boost the number of doctors in primary healthcare and bring their salaries into line with their hospital counterparts.

"The fact that trainee GPs are paid less than registrars working in hospitals is the biggest barrier to young doctors going into general practice," he said.

"That pay gap will be closed, to bring the pay of first-year GP registrars in line with that of hospital registrars."

Additional funding was also included in the package to fund primary healthcare providers that provide training.

South Auckland GP and chairperson of the Pasifika GP Network Dr Api Talemaitoga welcomed the announcement from Little and said it would provide medical graduates with an incentive to work in general practice.

"This is a fantastic start and opportunity that will encourage young doctors to train as GPs, including in south Auckland where the desire to live with families and communities is huge," he said.

"But it's not a quick fix and this has been a problem that's been here for years."

He said patient wait times in Counties Manukau were a direct result of existing GP shortages.

Earlier this week, it was revealed GPs were swamped throughout the country, with most of the 25 clinics surveyed reporting a wait of two or three weeks before the next available appointment.

Two GPs were fully booked until November.

Papakura GP Dr Primla Khar said the government's announcement by itself wouldn't increase the total number of doctors, even if it did lure more young graduates into general practice.

She said there was a desperate need to increase the number of GPs in South Auckland because of the area's rapidly growing population.

"Having said that, the recognition of GPs as a very crucial part of the healthcare system is welcome. And the extra money will relieve those who are teaching and the ones undergoing training."

Khar said the fact it took 10 years to train a doctor in primary practice meant the shortages and the wait times would continue for some time yet.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air