Patients at Whangārei Hospital are being given vouchers for treatment at White Cross clinics to help relieve pressure on an overworked emergency department.
The move has highlighted the ongoing health crisis in the region, which faces a critical GP shortage.
When Peter King went to the hospital, he saw a nurse and left with a voucher.
“Rather than have me waiting for hours to see a doctor,” he said.
Mr King is one of around eight Whangārei patients a day being given a free referral to White Cross to take pressure off the hospital emergency department.
The vouchers target non-emergency cases like colds and flu, vomiting and headaches, cuts that aren't too big, minor infections and rashes that won't go away, allowing hospital staff to focus on more serious cases.
“We've got one of the oldest populations, one of the poorest, very rural population which has problems accessing services, and also a high Māori population, so we've got that perfect storm of demand," Northland District Health Board CEO Nick Chamberlain said.
Northland's health services are struggling to keep up and some GP clinics have closed their books to new patients.
Mahitahi Hauora is a trust set up last year to tackle the problem.
“In the Whangārei area, we've got 22 practices. We've got four practices with open books, so if you're a new person, you can go to these practices and enroll - there is a wait,” Mahitahi Hauora's Phillip Balmy said.
“We have locums that we're providing and those locums are situated. We've got three in Whangārei and one in the Far North. One of the things that we're really wanting to do is make sure that GPs who need a break, that they can get one.”
The DHB says it’s working on speeding up the recruitment of foreign doctors to keep up with the high demand.