Patients turned away as Northland doctor shortage reaches crisis point

A doctor shortage in Northland has reached crisis point with patients being turned away or waiting weeks for an appointment. 

Those in the private health sector say they're overworked, burnt out, and patients are suffering. 

All three Kaitaia medical clinics have stopped taking new patients because their books are full. 

And it's a problem across the Far North. 

"It's very serious. And I know that none of us are happy to have our doors closed, but it has become a bit of a safety issue," GP Dr Kathryn Rollo of Kaitaia's Broadway Health told 1 NEWS.

Patients who are registered are waiting up to four weeks for an appointment.

Broadway Health has nearly 3,000 patients to 1.2 full-time doctors. 

"My fear is that due to the amount of work we have in dealing with the amount of patients we have, with the limited resources, that we're going to miss something big," Dr Rollo said.

It's the same at the clinic next door where GP Dr Michale Lomb said: "I was here three hours at night on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I'll probably be here late tonight, just catching up on work."

It costs around $15 for patients to see a doctor they're registered to in the Far North and around $50 if not registered. But with both the cost and the fact clinics are turning patients away, increasing numbers are expected at Kaitaia's emergency department. 

The district health board says the doctor shortage is a rural problem nationwide, and while it's not the DHB's responsibility, it'll work with communities to find a solution. 

"At the end of the day unfortunately it will become a DHB problem if we're not properly resourced in primary care," Dr Rollo said.

Community leader Ricky Hougton said: "The doctors up here are burnt out and burnt off. And they need a hand. This community needs a hand and what we need up here essentially is more funding to fund more doctors." 

In the meantime the DHB says it'll provide a non-urgent service to those unable to see a private doctor. 

The issue is brought home by Avalyn Young whose seven-year-old grandson has just moved to Kaitaia.

He has an ear ache but can't see a doctor. 

"I don't think it should be a life-threatening sickness in order for my grandson to be seen by a doctor, because that's probably what it's going to take," Ms Young said.

"The longer you leave it, well naturally they're going to get worse. And what do we do then. Who do we blame?"

Families in the Far North say they can't wait much longer.

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Patients are being turned away or waiting weeks for an appointment. Source: 1 NEWS