More than half of Whanganui's GPs will reach retirement age in the next decade.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) says rural areas across New Zealand will be hit with a GP shortage over the next decade, with nearly half of rural GPs intending to retire over that time.

The college's 2015 Workforce Survey of GPs showed 55 per cent of respondents in the Whanganui DHB area were aged over 55.

Whanganui District Health Board medical and allied health business manager Louise Torr said it was important for the future of the medical workforce in New Zealand to train as many Resident Medical Officers (RMOs) as possible each year. RMOs numbers had increased in recent years.


The Medical Council of New Zealand required RMOs to do a community "run" in their first two years of training, to gain experience as a doctor outside the hospital setting and encourage them into working in primary care.

Whanganui's first community run was a placement at the Whanganui Accident and Medical Centre, which began in February 2015, said Ms Torr.

Whanganui GP Dr John McMenamin said Whanganui general practices had been actively engaged in teaching GP trainees since 1981. Around half of current GPs in the area were graduates of that training.

Many local doctors had early clinical experience at Whanganui Hospital then continued into local GP training.

Dr McMenamin said several practices were engaged in undergraduate teaching, with medical students placed for clinical experience in general practice.

Dr Ken Young from the Bulls Medical Centre said recruitment and retention of GPs in the region has been and would continue to be an area of concern for the Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN).

He said longstanding accredited teaching practices in the region - Wicksteed Medical Centre, Aramoho Health Centre and Bulls Medical Centre - had been training for more than 10 years. Te Oranganui and Taihape Health had also recently joined the group.

"Some of the registrars who have been in these practices have stayed in the area, which has assisted the practices in replacing retiring practitioners."

Dr Young said health care was continuing to change and WRHN would continue to support innovative changes to deliver care to the population.

"We support the enhanced nursing role and will continue to support the training of new doctors, and attracting established doctors from other areas to ensure accessibility to care for the population."

Dr Grahame Jelley, chair of the RNZCGP rural chapter, said the percentage of rural GPs intending to retire within the next 10 years had increased nationwide to 48 per cent in 2016.

College chief executive Helen Morgan-Banda said 182 new trainee GP registrars were taken on through the college's General Practice Education Programme last year. They would qualify in two to three years' time.

It also had 180 complete their training and achieve fellowship of the RNZCGPs while working as GPs.

This year, it hoped to be able to confirm even more trainee GPs into its education programme.

"However, to keep increasing the number of GP trainees we need our funding to increase. We also need to find ways to train more GPs through new training models," she said.

"The college has a priority to build and maintain the GP workforce in New Zealand, however the length of time to train a GP is a minimum 11 years so the training pipeline is quite long."

New Zealand didn't have enough GPs because fewer were trained in the early 1990s, said Ms Morgan-Banda.

"There's a missing generation of GPs in the 35-50 age bracket and GPs are not being replaced at the same rate as GPs intend to retire over the next 10 years," she said.

The college was actively working to increase numbers of training GPs, but there was a continuing need for International Medical Graduates (IMG) to fill the gap in the workforce.

Many of those IMGs came to New Zealand 10 to 30 years ago and had been working in the same practice for many years.

Nearly 56 per cent of doctors in rural areas and more than 39 per cent in main urban areas were IMGs, said Ms Morgan-Banda.