An ongoing shortage of GPs has forced Kaitaia's general practices to close their doors to new enrolments.
The only exceptions will be the future children of existing patients, while the practices will continue to manage accidents and medical emergencies, alongside Kaitaia Hospital, for visitors and those who are not registered with a local practice.
Cheryl Britton, practice manager of Te Hiku Hauora's GP clinic, the Kaitaia Health Centre and the Mamaru Clinic at Cooper's Beach, Broadway Health CEO Jessie Hoskins and Top Health owner/partner Dr Michael Lomb said in a joint statement that the decision had been a very difficult one to make, but the practices had to commit to the patients they were already caring for. And even that was becoming a real challenge as locums completed their terms and winter illnesses began setting in.
In anticipation of "inevitable" staffing challenges, the practices had already introduced a Ministry of Health- and Northland DHB-endorsed model of care that included a phone assessment/clinical triage process to manage demand by having a clinician, doctor or nurse phone patients to assess and prioritise who needed to be seen that day.
That was safer than a non-clinical receptionist making appointments on a first come first served basis, leaving no capacity for those who were seriously unwell and had to be seen.
"We appreciate this causes frustration, but there may be times when a clinician is able to manage the situation safely by phone and save the patient having to attend an appointment. And a prioritisation process is necessary, as there is always more demand than supply," they said.
Meanwhile the practices continued to actively look for doctors, and were using current staff to the maximum extent. They were also exploring options such as US-trained physicians' assistants, whose role would be similar to that of a nurse practitioner.
In the meantime the practices encouraged those who were new to the area to maintain their relationship with their existing medical practitioner to ensure ongoing off-work certificates for ACC or Work and Income, and the prescription of regular medication.