VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff
Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke is ‘worried’ for his district and the future of its health care.
Taranaki District’s health care is almost at a “critical” point, with a population of 9,500 who will soon have only two GPs.
“It’s the worst I can remember,” said Neil Volzke, who was mayor of Stratford for 13 years and has been on council since 2001.
“I am very worried about what will happen. Especially with Omicron on our doorstep.
Only in recent years has Stratford’s health care been “more problematic”, seeing some residents forced to make an hour-long round trip to Hāwera or New Plymouth to see a GP, a- he declared.
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There are two medical centers in Stratford – the Avon Medical Centre, which has four doctors and one nurse prescriber, and the Regan Street Health Centre, which has one doctor.
On Wednesday, Pinnacle Incorporated, which operates Avon Medical Center and many other GP practices in Taranaki, confirmed that three doctors will leave by the end of next month.
While the organization is “actively planning ahead”, it has yet to find replacements.
“I’m worried – we need medical services,” Volzke said. “It will be critical.”
The average GP/patient ratio in New Zealand is one full-time doctor for every 1400 people.
If Stratford had just two GPs there would be one doctor for every 4,750 people, more than three times the national figure.
For the past few decades, Stratford had been “pretty well taken care of” when it came to health care, Volzke said.
“We had a lot of stability for a long time. This is what is quite upsetting for many people [now].”
A few years ago, a practice closed, and in 2020 the district was promised three new doctors, after the community raised concerns when one practice, Avon Medical Center, failed. is found with only one doctor.
Then, in October of last year, Stratford Medical Center closed, leaving only the two practices, Volzke said.
Over the past few weeks and months, Volzke has responded to calls from the community “expressing concern” about the shortage.
As a result, he contacted the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB), as he saw “no light at the end of the tunnel” as there is a nationwide shortage of doctors.
New Zealand needs around 1,400 more GPs to match Australia’s per capita level, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) estimates.
Volzke said while there was this problem, it was also difficult to bring GPs to a small town.
“It’s really hard to attract doctors.”
In an emailed statement, TDHB chief executive Rosemary Clements said it was a “complex issue”.
“TDHB is aware of the impending situation Stratford faces with the number of GPs who will soon be available,” Clements said.
“We are working with all agencies to support primary care in this community.”
When contacted last week, Avon Medical Center Chief Commercial Officer Nathan Morris referred questions to Pinnacle’s media team.
In a statement sent Wednesday responding to those questions, Pinnacle’s interim chief executive Justin Butcher said the practice is working to fill upcoming vacancies.
“However, the national shortage of GPs is making things difficult and replacements have not been named at this time.”
Butcher said the practice “would be aimed at providing normal services.”
“As the practice searches for new doctors, visiting locum GPs will provide additional coverage and virtual consultations with out-of-town doctors will also be available.”