Kate Hawkesby: Start investing in our health system now, or it'll only get worse

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I note the average time to wait to get in to see your GP is three weeks. That’s the average. For many it’s longer than that.

And for some rural areas in this country, you’d be hard pressed to see a GP at all, far less one close to you. You may have to drive for miles to get to even get to one. So we know it’s a problem, but how to fix it?

President of the Royal NZ College of GP’s, Samantha Murton, wrote a piece for the Herald yesterday saying how it’s not an easy fix. “We can’t magic away the chronic GP shortage”, she said.

She puts it down to the low number of trained GP’s.

She says that “our Med student numbers are lower than in many other first-world countries”, and that “they have little opportunity to train outside of hospitals, and early career doctors are not encouraged to work in general practice.”

And I know that to be true, we have a daughter at Med school currently and she would concur that not a lot of her peers are there to wind up in a GP’s office. Advocates for the work of GP’s will tell you it’s dynamic and ever changing, it can be a lovely interface with the community, Murton says it’s complex work and it’s never the same day twice.

Although I find that hard to believe at the moment, where surely every second patient is a respiratory illness.

I know that when I tried to see my GP recently it was nigh on impossible to get in, and when I eventually did, she told me I was one in a long line of patients she was seeing with all of the same symptoms and ailments. But that’s Covid and the flu for you isn’t it.

The crux of Murton’s piece is that we need to give “serious consideration to supporting other health professionals working in general practice” and I just wonder if the current Government’s cognisant of that.

Because it feels like they’re more focused on delivering bureaucratic overhauls, increasing bureaucracy and paperwork and not throwing much at the frontline where it’s needed.

But if Murton is right about no magic fix other than long term good investment in encouraging more people down the GP career path, then we need to surely start by offering more training to more students.

Limited spaces at only two Med schools in this country, is not enough. And if we can’t train enough here then we just have to let more into the country and enable them to be able to work here, without having them end up driving taxis, because they don’t meet strict NZ requirements.

Or because we force them to re-sit a bunch of tests they’ve already sat and passed and yet we throw them back to square one. We don’t have time for that luxury and to be that pedantic.

What’s galling is that having been through a pandemic and two years of closed borders, and with the health workforce crying out for help from every corner for so long, we still haven’t had the foresight to improve things. In fact it’s only gotten worse.

It’s a problem of successive governments in terms of neglect, but Murton’s point is that if we don’t start proactively doing something about it right now, we are not going to be any better off in another ten years, in fact, it may even be worse.