There are concerns in Whanganui's health sector that cheaper and more free GP visits for a few could lead to longer waiting times for all.

From December 1 this year, as part of Budget 2018 announcements, free doctor visits have been extended to under 14-year-olds and community card holders will get cheaper appointments at their GP.

The Whanganui Regional Health Network's chief executive, Judith Macdonald, was concerned cheaper GP visits were being rolled out before practices were able to adjust.

"It isn't going to be of significance if the capacity at general practice isn't increased.


"If the financial barrier is removed but there is not a funding review to assist general practice to ... increase their workforce, then the bulge will occur where people have to wait longer for an appointment."

Macdonald said the Government had indicated it planned to review primary health funding but that appeared to have morphed into a sector wide review announced this week.

"This is not particularly helpful for primary care as the funding review was considered by the sector as urgent and the Labour government acknowledged this in their election promises," she said.

One GP spoken to by the Wanganui Chronicle echoed the concern he would struggle to meet an increased demand for appointments.

Another said it already offered a special low cost service (usually below $20) and the Budget announcements were largely irrelevant.

Macdonald said it was fairly normal to see lower fees in Whanganui when compared nationally.

"We're a district where the GPs acknowledge that we have a high level of poverty in our community and therefore we've always adopted fairly quickly any reduction in fee.

"It does make an incredible difference for a lot of our families who find accessing healthcare not that affordable."


The lower fees for Community Services card holders would come into effect if a GP opted into the subsidy from December and it wasn't already in the special low cost service.

It was up to all the practices whether they also opted in to free visits for under 14-year-olds.

Several other GPs were approached for comment but weren't yet able to say whether the Budget announcements would have any effect.