Stratford residents can look forward to easier access to GP appointments in the near future, with new owners taking over Avon Medical Centre in mid-July.
Currently owned by Primary Health Care Ltd (PHCL), Avon Medical Centre is one of many practices across Aotearoa New Zealand that has been facing staffing challenges due to the national shortage of GPs and the impacts of Covid-19 on the primary care workforce.
After three of the clinic's GPs left the practice earlier this year, the centre has been short-staffed with only one permanent GP working on-site. While the team at PHCL have been using locum GPs and offering virtual consults as an alternative, it has been clear a more sustainable solution was needed.
Pinnacle acting chief executive Justin Butcher says the situation has been far from ideal.
"The lack of adequate GP cover carries clinical risk, puts huge pressure on the medical centre team, and has led to patients facing long wait times for routine appointments."
An announcement on the PHCL website on Monday (May 16) states the new owners, Coastal Medical Ltd (CML), will take over on July 18. Current patients of the practice have also been informed by email and app notification today.
Stratford District mayor Neil Volzke says he welcomes the news.
"The change of ownership has been in the wind for some time now and I am pleased it has come to fruition. This will help address the shortage of GPs in the District and this change will come as a huge relief to the many patients who have been experiencing difficulty accessing a GP in recent months. The Coastal Medical team is a well-established practice and we welcome them into this community."
Neil says thanks is also due to the current team at Avon Medical Centre.
"I also want to thank the current team at Avon who have been doing their very best to provide quality services at such a challenging time."
Coastal Medical are not new to the area, already owning Opunake and Oakura medical centres in Taranaki, delivering a full range of primary care services to their local rural communities. They have established relationships with iwi, with clinics on the Parihaka Papakāinga, and have collaborated with Taranaki District Health Board and Pinnacle to deliver health services to local whānau.
Justin says the Coastal Medical team is well resourced and in a good position to handle the staffing challenges at Avon Medical Centre.
"We want everyone to get the care they need, when they need it, and we've explored all options to make that happen. It became obvious we were going to need to think differently about finding a solution, which led us to the decision to sell to Coastal Medical... We're delighted to be able to return the practice to local GP ownership, and we have confidence they'll serve the community well."
Coastal Medical GP and director Dr Nick Loveridge-Easther says the team is looking forward to getting to know Avon Medical Centre patients.
"We know it's been a difficult time for the patients and staff. We're aware of the huge amount of work we need to do to return to the high standard of primary health care service the people of Stratford are used to and aim to improve on that too. We're working hard behind the scenes to develop sustainable solutions to increase accessibility to health care, as we have established in our other clinics. We're excited to work with the Stratford community to make this a service we can all be proud of."
Current patients of Avon Medical Centre don't need to do anything ahead of the change of ownership, with medical records automatically transferred when the change of ownership takes place on July 18. Fees will remain the same, and patients can expect to see some new faces joining the medical centre team, and phone calls will be answered by on-site receptionists.