Just over three months ago, prominent health advocate Dr Lance O'Sullivan announced a bold move to introduce drive-through medical centres throughout New Zealand. The new centres were to be open until midnight and would open up healthcare to those who found it too difficult or expensive to get to a doctor. Rotorua was to be the first and it was to open this month. But it seems already the plan has had a couple of hiccups. Kelly Makiha finds out from O'Sullivan where the plans are at and if we will ever see it in Rotorua.
A drive-through medical centre open until midnight that was meant to open in Rotorua this month has now been delayed.
Dr Lance O'Sullivan announced at the end of July hundreds of drive-through mobile medical clinics were being planned by 2020 in an ambitious bid to make healthcare "as accessible as Uber".
However, he has now said there had been a few compliance hold-ups with the containers in China and he had chosen to open the new clinics in Northland first hopefully by February, with Rotorua by mid-next year.
O'Sullivan, who has previously been named New Zealander of the Year and is the founder of the Moko Foundation, came up with the idea which quickly won favour as it would have opened up healthcare to those who struggled to afford and go to the doctor.
He said in July the centres would be housed in 12m (40ft) long containers from China and the first would be coming to Rotorua, opening by November. He had hoped to open it in the Kmart carpark at Trade Central.
He said people could either drive up to the windows and order what they needed, including a repeat prescription or get their blood pressure checked, or park and go into the clinic for an examination.
• Premium - Letters: Great work by Lance O'Sullivan
• Court date for man accused of assaulting Dr Lance O'Sullivan
• Premium - 'Happy Meal' healthcare: Rotorua to be the first of 200 drive-through mobile medical clinics
• Rotorua icon: Final stage of Soundshell demolition starts next week
He said the main advantage would be opening until midnight, allow anyone to access healthcare at all times.
At the time of his announcement, he said he was confident the visits would be cheaper than regular general practice visits, especially for registered patients.
Kelly Makiha: Harry Edward - once seen never forgotten
Victory for family: Neihana's choking tragedy sparks change
'I would have stepped up': Tania Tapsell on deputy mayor role
O'Sullivan said at the time his strong links to Rotorua were the reason he chose to open here first.
"I started my career in Rotorua, my family and children whakapapa to Rotorua and it helped form me to be the person I am today as a clinician."
However, O'Sullivan had now had a change of heart. He told the Rotorua Daily Post he did an analysis of where the greatest need was and had decided to open in the Far North first.
"There are severe shortages of doctors in Kaitaia and it's just too compelling. We are still talking to Rotorua service providers but we will be setting up the first prototypes in the north."
He said he was looking at Kaitaia first and Kaikohe second and hoped to have them under way by February.
"Rotorua is still on our radar. We are looking where the greatest need is and to serve communities with high health needs. Overwhelmingly that said to get going up north."
He said he would look to surrounding areas, such as Tokoroa, once Rotorua was set up.
Lakes District Health Board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she hoped O'Sullivan wasn't dissuaded from setting up in Rotorua following some negative comments about it being a "dopey idea".
She said she travelled with O'Sullivan four years ago throughout the US and saw many new health initiatives aimed at improving health outcomes of vulnerable families and individuals.
"We all know our health statistics for some sectors of our community need real focus. A shot in the arm. So reaching families at places they frequent, at all hours is a good start. The use of nurses and nurse practitioners, widely used overseas, rather than always doctors is just another option to be explored.
"Dr O'Sullivan has a widely respected reputation for attempting new ideas. We need more people like him. It can longer be business as usual."