South Auckland GPs facing ‘burnout’ due to increased workloads

Source: Local Democracy Reporting

South Auckland GPs say burnout is a growing problem for the profession as doctors struggle to cope with increased workloads monitoring Covid-19 positive patients self-isolating at home.

Generic image of a doctor at work.

Stephen Forbes, Local Democracy Reporter

The Government announced on Thursday that it would commit approximately $1.5 billion to boost end-to-end support for people with the virus in the community.

The package included nearly $1b for increased testing, contact tracing and case investigation, $300 million for new medicines to treat the virus and $204m in welfare support for people isolating at home, or who have lost their job after contracting Covid-19.

But the funding did not include any additional targeted support for GPs and primary healthcare providers.

Papakura GP Dr Primla Khar's practice is supporting a number of patients with the virus who are self-isolating.

Khar said the Government's funding package should have included more support for doctors and nurses working on the frontline.

She said she was aware of a number of GPs in South Auckland who were leaving the profession because of burnout.

"We will continue to deliver, but it could come at a great cost if we continue to lose people from the industry."

Health Minister Andrew Little announced a series of changes to MIQ last month that he said would see the majority of people with coronavirus treated in the community, instead of relocating them to managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Such patients were expected to be monitored by Healthline, with initial assessments carried out by Auckland Regional Public Health Service, with help from primary healthcare providers.

But just over a month later GPs say they are monitoring increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients self-isolating at home.

Dr Matire Harwood works at the Papakura Marae Health Clinic, which is also monitoring a number of Covid-19 patients.

She said this week's announcement by the Government had failed to recognise the work being done on the frontline by nurses and doctors.

Harwood said burnout remained a real issue for many in the profession and the extra workloads added by monitoring people with Covid-19 only added to the day-to-day pressures they faced.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said the Government's announcement on Thursday was a step in the right direction.

But he said the role of GPs and primary practices in helping to manage people in the community with Covid-19 had not been addressed.

"It was noticeable that there wasn't anything to support frontline healthcare services and GPs. It needs to be adequately resourced in places like South Auckland where the people are working really, really hard."

Betty said when the government unveiled its plan to shift to managing increasing numbers of people with Covid-19 in the community GPs were not expected to play a major role.

But as the numbers of people have increased in areas like South Auckland the role of primary healthcare providers in monitoring positive cases has grown rapidly.

"There's an unrelenting pressure with Covid-19 for GPs, there's the swabbing, the vaccinations and now monitoring the people isolating in the community," he said.

"It's not often recognised by the Ministry of Health and the government, but at some point it takes a toll and resourcing becomes an issue."

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners released the results of a survey in March that it conducted with its members and highlighted ongoing concerns about GP burnout.

Betty said the same workplace pressures identified in the survey had only been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19.

Minister of Health Andrew Little was approached for comment for this article.