Mahitahi Hauora GP survey shows the impact of underfunding

In February 2024 we surveyed our general practices on the issues facing primary healthcare.

‘Using this survey, we want to be able to advocate on behalf of our practices and the health needs of the communities we serve. The results of the survey were not surprising, our Te Tai Tokerau GPs are telling us loud and clear that they are feeling strained after years of workload pressures and underfunding. There is no doubt about it, Northland is in crisis.’ says Mahitahi Hauora CEO Jensen Webber.

Most of the current capitation funding that general practices receive for each enrolled patient is based on age and gender rather than complexity of patient needs. ‘Our rural general practices serving a high proportion of high needs, Māori and Pacific people may soon be forced to close due to financial instability, leaving those communities with the highest and most complex needs patients without access to primary care. We would like to see a more equitable funding model that supports practices with high needs populations in attracting and retaining GPs.’ Says Jensen.

In addition to more equitable models of funding around capitation, we would like to see additional funding for GPs and Nurses in primary care and equitable pay between primary and secondary care and regions. 88% of general practice staff who responded to the survey said they need additional funding for clinical roles to be able to serve the population and 76% cited the lower pay GPs and Nurses receive in primary compared to secondary and in Northland compared to Auckland as a significant barrier to recruitment of overseas GPs and locums, and retention of existing staff.

‘In our own network we are seeing GPs are leaving practices due to burnout and retirement. A few of our mid and far North practices have GPs that are currently past retirement age or are approaching retirement, and vacancies that they are struggling to fill. This primary healthcare staffing crisis extends to nursing as well. Our Partnership Services Team are working with many of our practices on their succession planning now, due to the ageing workforce and there being little to no pipeline.’ Says Jensen.

Northland communities are also faced with limited pharmacy coverage and after-hours provision. Despite a good geographic spread of pharmacies, there are none outside of Whangārei that open past midday on Saturdays.

‘Most of our practices that were offering after-hours provision have been forced to remove this service over the past few years due to the significant workforce shortages we are seeing. Our one dedicated urgent after-hours provider, White Cross Whangārei, often closes early. This lack of after-hours provision means patients either present to ED or delay seeking the care they need resulting in poorer health outcomes.’ Said Jensen.