West Coast town desperate for a GP

Source: 1News

The health sector across the country is under pressure right now but in Reefton, even seeing a doctor in person will be a challenge this winter.

The West Coast town won't have a full-time GP for the next three months, which has many locals concerned.

The town has relied upon locum GPs who come in temporarily, often from overseas, for years now as they've been unable to find a permanent doctor.

Health NZ's West Coast general manager, Philip Wheble, says they couldn't find a locum for this winter and even providing some cover was a challenge.

"We've got one GP that is coming across and providing face-to-face consults for one day a week and we also have a person that will be coming in and doing telehealth consults for two days a week, so we've got three days covered now in Reefton," he said.

Wheble says the shortage of GPs isn't isolated to Reefton.

"Certainly when you're in a rural area, we feel the challenge of recruiting general practitioners more than perhaps in urban areas, and that's been an issue for quite some time."

Nurses in Reefton will continue to provide the likes of after hours care and patients are asked to get prescriptions ahead of time.

It comes amid a slew of illnesses this winter and an increasing number of Covid-19 cases.

Reefton resident Ashleigh Neil says even getting through to the medical centre at the moment is hard.

"It takes a long time to get through. The phone lines are often extremely busy because there's many people in a day trying to get an appointment," she said.

"If you can get an appointment, you are looking at usually a week to two weeks unless it's urgent."

Neil says many people in the town are used to not having a full-time doctor.

"It does make it extremely challenging and just demoralising and quite demeaning that we are fighting for what should be a simple human right as access to health care."

Lisa Neil, who is the chairwoman of community group Reefton Who Cares, says a permanent GP based in the town would be able to help with long-term issues.

"There's no relationship being built. They pick up on things like domestic violence or addiction or whatever it might be but there's none of that trust," she said.

Buller District councillor John Bogen says the lack of doctor in the town is disappointing as he appealed for help.

"To any doctor out there who is watching this, what do you want? We'll give you a house. We'll give you the best fishing in the country. We'll give you the best mountain bike tracks in the world," he said.

"Come on down. We'll look after you."