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Staff shortage hits private medical clinics in Auckland

Venkat Raman
Auckland, July 7, 2022

Freezing temperatures have had a telling effect on the health of New Zealanders, especially the old and the vulnerable and the problem is compounded in Auckland as staff shortage begins to hit private medical centres including General Practitioners.

Many practices including a few known to this Reporter have been turning away patients and asking them to visit Accident and Emergency Centres which are already overcrowded.

A receptionist at one such private practice said that the surgery has been closed for the past several days since there were no nurses and doctors available to examine patients.

“We are sorry that we are unable to attend to our regular customers. There are people visiting our clinics for flu vaccines and consultation on winter illnesses. We advise them to go to emergency departments in hospitals,” she said.

Opening hours slashed

Radio New Zealand Health Correspondent Rowan Quinn said in a report that many urgent and after-hours clinics in Auckland are slashing their opening hours, or not opening at all, because of staff shortage.

“The private clinics are vital for helping take the pressure off hospitals swamped with winter illnesses. In some cases, patients are given vouchers to attend urgent care when emergency departments in hospitals are full,” she said.

White Cross operates 16 clinics across Auckland, open on all days of the week.

“On Friday and Monday, its Glenfield centre on the North Shore did not have enough staff to open, while its 24-hours service at Ascot had to close overnight on Monday. Two other centres, including New Lynn, which takes some patients redirected from Waitakere Hospital with vouchers, had to close early in the past week,” Ms Quinn said.

Shorecare in Northcross, in the Northeast of the city, had to close six hours early at 2 pm on Saturday, normally a busy time for winter illnesses and sports injuries. It examined many patients diverted from North Shore Hospital.

More patients, less staff

White Cross Director of Urgent Care  DR Alistair Sullivan said that before the overnight Ascot Clinic closed at 11 pm, additional doctors came to treat patients who were waiting.

“Anyone wanting to come in after that either had to go to Auckland Hospital or other 24-hour services in Henderson or the North Shore. The staffing situation is dire. While there are long-term staffing shortages, the situation is exacerbated by winter respiratory illnesses among staff and their children. It is certainly the worst workforce situation for both doctors and nurses in my 30 years of experience,” he said.

General Practitioner Peter Boot, a shareholder in Shorecare, said that the branch that had to close would have seen as many as 80 patients in the six hours they had to close early, depending on the number of doctors working and the complexity of patients’ needs.

“Its closure was tough on patients and meant extra pressure for already overwhelmed hospitals.

Dr Sullivan said that the number of patients was not different compared to the pre- lockdowns period in 2019, but the average waiting time has almost doubled.

“This situation is partly due to shortage of doctors and nurses and partly due to loss of efficiency caused by Covid-19 protection measures. Staff are coping and the morale is good but an increase in winter illnesses could impact adversely. Action must be taken to address the shortage,” he said.

 

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