Anthea Prentice is a sole rural GP in Cheviot. Photo / Anthea Prentice
Last week 900 doctors signed an open letter to the health minister which demanded the government face up to a “catastrophic collapse” of the health workforce.
Anthea Prentice is the sole rural GP in Cheviot, she said this crisis has been coming for a long time.
The pandemic has simply highlighted it and been the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, forcing doctors to speak out.
She said it’s political for Health Minister, Andrew Little, to not call it a crisis and, at a ministry level, there was some acceptance and recognition that the medical workforce was at breaking point.
There was a crisis in the rural areas, according to Prentice who said the situation was dire for rural GPs.
“Big areas are not covered, or there are long waits, and more vulnerable areas are under-serviced.
“This leads to a much higher need for secondary services down the track. This is one of the main complaints. Primary care right across the country needs to work better,” she said.
From a general practitioner’s perspective, and a rural one, in particular, Prentice said they felt like the “poor cousin” to those giving secondary care in hospitals.
“The money is funnelled in through the secondary care much more than into the primary and it has developed quite a disparity of the pay that’s happening for the medical workforce that works in the community as opposed to the medical workforce that works in the hospital.”
Prentice said the disparity wasn’t just around money but also about conditions, with a provision in hospitals for time to attend conferences, peer review and opportunities for team support.
“When you’re a rural solo practitioner … you’re having to find locum cover for any time that you have off for family, or recreation, training, keeping yourself skilled and safe. That has to come out of your own pocket.”
Prentice believed the country as a whole didn’t value GPs.
She said there’s a sense of “you’re just a GP” when it’s the primary care that should get priority. Care at this level keeps people out of hospitals.
One million people live rurally and Prentice said this was where much more effort and money needed to go.
She would also like to see medical schools putting all trainees into the community for longer.
It was a rewarding side of medicine to be involved in, she said.
Little responded to doctors’ concerns, saying he acknowledged the “really tough winter” after two years of pandemic and work was continuing to fill staffing gaps.