Doctor shortage hits Bay

By Amy McGillivray

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Dr Bryce Kihirini started medical school at the age of 27 in order to help get enough doctors in Te Puke to look after the population. Photo/John Borren
Dr Bryce Kihirini started medical school at the age of 27 in order to help get enough doctors in Te Puke to look after the population. Photo/John Borren

A growing population and a shortage of doctors is making it tough for Tauranga residents to find a GP.

Six of the 15 Western Bay practices the Bay of Plenty Times contacted this week had closed their books as they could not manage more patients.

Data from the 2013 Census showed the population of Tauranga City grew by more than 23,600 to 114,789 between 2001 and 2013. The Western Bay grew by 5700 to 43,692 during the same period.

Nga Kakano Family Health practice manager Nicola Kihirini said they were in the rare situation where they could take on new patients as a new GP, Dr Bryce Kihirini, started work with the clinic in December.

The Te Puke clinic had been severely understaffed for some time so took the extraordinary measure of training its own doctor.

Dr Kihirini, 36, said he always wanted to be a doctor but went on to study and gain his masters in business.

It wasn't until he was 27 that he applied for medical school with the intention of coming back to Te Puke to work for Nga Kakano Family Health as a GP.

"My daughter had severe croup and I tried to take her into a doctor in Te Puke and she was refused because she wasn't enrolled. I sort of made a vow to myself that that would never ever happen again so I used that as motivation to go through medical school," Dr Kihirini said.

"Our people need doctors back here. They need top notch doctors. That's the reason. We just can't get doctors."

Once he was accepted into medical school the Nga Kakano Foundation supported him and his family through the degree.

Other practices were still struggling to keep up with demand. Gate Pa Medical Centre had stopped taking patients.

"We'll probably open our books again in a couple of weeks," the practice manager said.

"We're always full. We closed our books a month or so ago because we had so many patient transfers. It's really tough to find a GP at the moment."

Bethlehem Medical Centre was also not accepting new patients. "We probably have had our books closed for a couple of years. We did open them up just before Christmas when we got a new doctor," practice manager Diane Pitkeathly said.

"We could open the books but we just wouldn't be able to service the patients we do have."

Chadwick Healthcare practice manager Julie Cannon said the centre had recently employed two new doctors who were accepting new patients.

Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation general practice co-ordinator Donna McArley said it was a struggle to find enough GPs to meet demand in Tauranga.

"We really, really need more GPs. You've got areas like Greerton that catered for basically just the Greerton community. Now you've got Oropi and The Lakes and they are wanting a doctor on the way to work," she said.

"The practices are just bulging at the seams. It's a national problem, it's not just here."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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