The Government has made its expectations clear that GPs and their General Practices across the Taupō Electorate will be the first triage point of call for cases or household contacts of patients during Phase 3, and according to their “Care in the Community” model.
The Government anticipates “most people with COVID-19 … will be able to self-isolate and fully recover in their own home with support from local healthcare providers”.
GPs will electronically be notified of each positive case and will be expected to call them to determine their level of support and needs.
However, the Government may have overlooked the fact that many communities in my electorate are experiencing a chronic shortage of health professionals, particularly GPs and locums needed to support the increase in services expected.
As case numbers continue to rise, especially for that are outside of a household, there is no doubt that general practices will be under significant additional pressure as DHBs and Primary Health Units seek to minimise traffic to hospitals and their emergency departments.
In some areas, communities already face long waiting times to see a GP, and in others like Tokoroa, one clinic has no permanent GP. Their only option becomes the hospital emergency department.
Travelling long distances just to see a doctor can be a costly exercise for many at a time when the cost of living is rising substantially.
Nurses can also be expected to assist on the frontline in triaging patients before they see a GP. However, nurses require a doctor to sign off orders, referrals and regular prescriptions. With no permanent GP on-site at times, unnecessary delays with medications could become life-threatening.
Current self-isolation rules also mean medical practices may need to close their doors to minimise face to face contact with patients or risk staff shortages.
In Lakes DHB coverage area, as the outbreak develops, elective services (day stay theatre) will be reduced or stopped in both Rotorua and Taupō when additional staff (and beds) are required. Most outpatient services will be via video or telehealth with less face to face clinics.
Before border closures, the bureaucratic immigration process for attracting health professionals from abroad was already an issue. Since then, the delays in opening the borders have created a real crisis in the making for general practices and the communities they serve.
The Government has failed to plan for the multi-faceted problem facing our health sector. This is a sector that is now being called upon to step up and cover the Government’s lack of planning when they are already struggling to keep their heads above the water.
I will be writing to the Minister of Health, seeking his assurances that he has a plan for ensuring general practices in my electorate get the support they so desperately need.
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