Family doctors warn a crisis is looming with the dwindling numbers of general practitioners around the country.
In the Bay of Plenty, 102 GPs responded to a Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners' Heart of the Community campaign.
One-third reported a vacancy for another GP at their practice in 2016, 40 per cent said they were aged over 55 years and 47 per cent planned to retire in the next 10 years.
College president Tim Malloy said 350 GPs had emailed digital postcards to be presented to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman next Wednesday as part of the campaign.
Dr Malloy said there was a problem which could have a dire effect on the country if action was not taken soon.
"With more than 40 per cent of the GP workforce planning to retire in the next 10 years, we need to train new GPs now - and that requires more government funding.
"If we continue to overwork our existing GPs, many may consider retiring earlier.
"Without the next generation of GPs to hand over to, New Zealand will find itself facing a critical shortage of GPs - which will make it difficult for patients to be seen," Dr Malloy said.
Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell has joined the campaign.
"Everyone is tired of battling for limited resources and for the best treatment for our patients," Dr Farrell said.
Dr Farrell, aged 53, said he worked "well in excess of 40 hours a week - 33 hours consulting, plus two hours a day of paper work and education work" such as lecturing on the effects of drugs, alcohol and methamphetamines.
His work was primary care relating to addiction. But he was not considering retiring in the next 10 years.
"I can't afford to," he said.
Staff shortages led to compassion fatigue and that was not safe, he said.
Dr Farrell said he was fed up with politicians not implementing policy to prevent diseases.
"Alcohol and sugar are prime examples," he said.
He questioned why, if the economy was doing well, there was not more money for the health sector.
Western Bay Primary Health Organisation chief executive Roger Taylor said the Tauranga area was not short of GPs.
"From time to time, with our rapid growth, we need more GPs but because the area is so appealing, most vacancies are soon filled," said Mr Taylor.
However, Mr Taylor warned of a general upcoming shortage of doctors and nurses, as the majority of those working in the health sector were facing retirement in the next 10 years.
Tauranga-based Nga Mataapuna Oranga clinical director Dr David Spear said finding good GPs was difficult.
Many GPs working for the health provider work part-time "to combat burn-out," Dr Spear said.
It was not a matter of the number of doctors but of "fulltime equivalent" (FTE) staff.
"We have trainee GPs working with us for six months before they move on to their next placement. Hopefully, in that time, we have shown them enough that they realise what a good posting working for NMO [Nga Mataapuna Oranga] will be and they will come and work for us."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board medical director Dr Hugh Lees said the medical workforce, in general, was ageing.
"We haven't been producing enough medical graduates for some time but that has been recognised and the medical school intakes and output are now both increasing."
General practice was becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for junior doctors, he said.
"Whilst the current situation might not be ideal it is manageable and we believe that the increasing number of doctors coming through the system will make things much better in the future."
Health Workforce New Zealand group manager Claire Austin said the Medical Workforce Pipeline programme was working to ensure a sustainable medical workforce, including steps to help trainee doctors make informed decisions when choosing specialties.
Other initiatives included a regional rural admission scheme, which gave preference to medical students with a rural background, a rural immersion programme, which provided clinical experience in rural communities to encourage more registrars into rural general practice, three months community based attachments being phased in for postgraduate Year 1 and 2 doctors and a voluntary bonding scheme, which incentivises health professionals to work in hard-to-staff rural areas.
"The Government has also passed legislation which enables other suitably qualified health practitioners to do things previously restricted to doctors," she said.
Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said health remained the Government's No 1 funding priority.
"Budget 2017 delivers on that by investing an extra $3.9 billion in health over four years for new initiatives and to meet cost pressures and population growth. The Government's investment in health will reach a record $16.77 billion in 2017-18 - that's an extra $888 million, the biggest increase in nine years."
Twenty BOP GPs submitted e.postcards/messages to the Health Minister and these were the common themes:
•The shortage of GPS, some specifically referencing their own practice. "There are simply too many patients and not enough doctors".
•Inequality of access for patients, particularly regarding VLCA (very low cost access) practices. "Under the current model, millionaire landowners enjoy the same benefits of low-cost access in our practice as the truly impoverished. Surely it makes more sense for patients to pay (or not) on the basis of their income rather than their postcode. In other words, for the money to follow the individual patient."
•Wellbeing in the workforce/burnout. "The current structure of seeing a patient every 15 minutes for the entire day is not sustainable for a 25-year career."
•Workforce/recruitment (state of the workforce). "A lot of us are burning out and young doctors don't seem to want to take over the burden". "There is a national shortage of GPs which will only get worse with the retirement crisis looming".