A sparsely-populated Northland community is without a GP after the only medical centre catering for about 6000 people temporarily closed its doors due to a doctor shortage.
The move last month by Parua Bay Medical Centre has annoyed its patients, who only learnt about the closure when they turned up for their appointments rather than being informed beforehand.
Local JP Sue Farrant rang on January 22 to make an appointment and the call was answered by a staff at the Onerahi Medical Centre who informed her the centre at Parua Bay was closed and the re-opening date was uncertain.
Both medical centres are run by the same legal entity.
"A lot of us are elderly and have to rely on ... neighbours to drive them to town. Some can't even go and see a GP in Onerahi. But my bone of contention is that they haven't notified their patients of the closure," she said.
Farrant, now in her 80s, has been a patient at the Parua Bay Medical Centre since 2008.
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Another resident and patient Karen Whitley who worked at both clinics in the past described the situation as "horrifying", saying services have not been up to par in recent times.
"It's a real shame because there are a lot of older people here who don't want to travel to Onerahi," she said.
In the past as was the case now, she said people have arrived for their appointments only to find the doors shut.
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They then travelled to the Onerahi Medical Centre where they couldn't get an appointment.
Dale Te Iwimate, manager northern group for OmniHealth that runs both centres, said there were no plans to permanently close the Parua Bay clinic, which was run as a satellite to save people travel time.
"We close to minimise clinical risk and ensure continued patient safety when our doctor levels are inadequate to provide services at both locations safely."
When patients phoned the Parua Bay clinic, she said they were advised they could be seen in Onerahi.
There was a notice at Parua Bay informing people of the latest situation and whether they could be seen there or in Onerahi, she said.
"We are aware of the disappointment of patients because they cannot access our service through Parua Bay, and we wish this was different, regrettably we cannot spread out staff over two locations when we are able to provide a more effective and clinically safe service from Onerahi."
Te Iwimate said OmhiHealth has secured two overseas doctors — one starting around May and another in June — pending their registration.
"Onerahi, as with so many Whangārei practices, is experiencing an intense doctor shortage. It is an area-wide problem and both the DHB and the PHE are working with local providers to change this. There is no quick fix," she said.