July 8, 2008

Stratford Doctor Shortage Set to Reach Crisis Point

By CLEARY, Greta

MEDICAL services in Stratford will be strained this month due to a GP shortage in the area.

Patients of Avon Medical Centre have been told not to expect over the next two weeks the rapid service they are used to, as the centre is facing a temporary crisis.

Owner and senior doctor Brian Wood will be the only fulltime GP at the centre, with part-time assistance from another trying to cover the work of three GPs.

Dr Chris Morrison left at the end of last year and his replacement doesn't arrive until September.

The two locum who have been covering in the meantime are moving on after six months and Dr John Bellomo is on six weeks' leave.

"The service isn't under long-term threat," said Dr Wood.

"It has been difficult to get replacements but we're not blaming anyone. It's no one's fault."

He said the centre used the New Zealand Rural Locum Service, which is a government-funded organisation.

"They have been really helpful, but there just isn't any cover."

Dr Wood said staff would take on extra responsibilities. "Nurses may do assessments to see how urgent a case is. There is a degree of prioritising going on."

Patients have been asked to consider postponing non-urgent visits.

It is likely Saturday clinics will not run every week. The doctors also work as back-up for ambulance staff and this may also be affected.

The situation highlights the issue of attracting and retaining doctors in rural areas.

Southcare Medical in Hawera has had similar problems.

The Stratford Medical Trust recently announced a proposed medical centre that may assist in easing potential coverage problems.

"It's difficult to say it will help but we are keen to go in that direction," Dr Wood said.

While there were generally no problems, doctors had to feel they were able to go on holiday, he said.

He expects the situation will return to normal in September when the centre will have three GPs working fulltime. Another GP, Dr Gerard Radich, will be on leave for two weeks this month. While a locum is providing cover, patients have been notified and told some may need to travel to Hawera or New Plymouth for acute care.

(c) 2008 Daily News; New Plymouth, New Zealand. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.