Amy McGillivray

Amy is the lifestyles reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Medical treatment for kids costs more in the Bay

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Western Bay children are being charged more than the national average to go to the doctor.

The average cost of a GP appointment for 6 to 17-year-olds in the Western Bay is $26.18, compared to the national average of $22.31.

Of the 26 centres, one charged more than $40 for an appointment and four others charged more than $35 per visit.

Two provided free care for children up to the age of 18, and six charged $25 or less.

Western Bay Primary Health Organisation (WBPHO) general practice co-ordinator Donna McArley said the higher price was probably due to the low Maori and Pacific Island population in the Western Bay.

Practices where Maori and Pacific Islanders made up more than 50 per cent of their enrolled patients were eligible to receive extra funding, known as Access funding, so they could lower the fee charged directly to the patent, she said. Ms Mcarley said the high number of Access funded practices in areas such as South Auckland could be bringing the national average down.

Te Puke centre Nga Kakano Foundation Family Health Services, one of two Access funded practices in the region, provided free care until a child turned 18, and for those 65 and older.

Practice administrator Nicola Kihirini said the funding received from the WBPHO allowed the clinic to keep their fees low.

All general practices were given some funding from the PHO but it was up to individual clinics to decide how to spread it across the patients. Ms Kihirini said Nga Kakano Foundation Family Health Services allocated its funding to make sure the most vulnerable had access to health care and did not suffer because they could not afford it.

"We're a local organisation and we're not-for-profit, so our main concern is our clients."

Many of the clients could not afford to pay for their children to see a doctor and, without a free provider, would delay seeking treatment until the situation was so bad the child was hospitalised.

According to WBPHO records, Gate Pa Medical Centre was the cheapest of the centres which required a payment charging just $20 for a child between 6 and 17 years old.

Practice manager Lorraine Anderson said the centre made a conscious decision to subsidise the cost for children because they knew there was a need in the area.

"We realise that people around this area just can't afford it and we would rather see the kids than have them go without," she said.

Gate Pa was a high need area and price was always an issue for families around the clinic and, despite their best efforts, some families would delay going to a doctor until they found themselves in hospital, she said.

Dee St Medical Centre was one of the most expensive in the Western Bay, charging $33 for 6-11 year olds and $40.50 for 12-17 year olds.

A spokesperson for Dee St Medical Centre said while a fee of $33 applied for 6-10 years, their GPs did have the discretion to reduce that cost in certain circumstances and often did so.

The Green Party wants a maximum fee of $11.50 set for the 6-17 age group and further reduction later, in return for bigger subsidies from the Government.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King also supported increased state funding to reduce fees for children.

Tauranga Household Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said that when people were already struggling to cope, medical bills could add a huge burden on families.

Mrs Bruin said if clients were struggling to manage to pay their medical expenses, she often referred them to the Kaitiaki Nursing Service, which provided free nursing clinics around the district, including changing bandages, doing blood pressure checks and some sexual health services.

She said the huge variance in doctor fees was surprising, but urged people to pre-pay known future doctors' visits at $5 to $10 a week so they did not have to pay the bill in one lump sum.

Mrs Bruin said if people were struggling she also encouraged them to be upfront with their GP or medical centre and try to negotiate a time payment arrangement.

Ms Mcarley agreed price was often a challenge for young people but free doctors and nurses were available in schools and through community programmes such as Kaitiaki Nursing.

"The things teenagers do turn up for are progressive things like STDs, and then we have the high suicide rate in youth, so if we make it cheaper, hopefully they will think about going sooner."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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