Otago group urges Government to fund free GP visits

The Government is being urged to make doctor's visits free by revamping its healthcare funding.

Academics at Otago University believe cost is a major barrier preventing people from going to their GP.

For many than 80 years, New Zealand's health system has allowed free hospital, but charge for most people to see a family doctor.

Prof Robin Gauld, the Otago Business School Dean, says this is a barrier for a lot of New Zealanders.

"For roughly 20 percent of New Zealand the cost barrier is significant. That's wrong."

A group from Otago University's Business School is proposing a major shakeup, axing individual exemptions and subsidised fees, and the Government either fully funding all general practices or paying doctors a salary.

Prof Gauld said this would not be cheap.

"It would come at a cost. It could be several hundred million in order to fully subsidise the patient charges to see a GP and bring them down to effectively zero."

The Business School group believes that's affordable with the Government spending $18 billion a year across the health sector.

GPs are welcoming the debate, but charges aren't the only reason people don't see a doctor.

Dr Samantha Murton, President of the NZ College of General Practitioners says people have many other reasons for skipping on doctors' visits.

"They can't get off work, they may not be able to drive as far as they need to, or they don't have the petrol to get there. So it's not just about the fee."

And GPs warn free-for-all setups like the UK's National Health Service can create problems, with some patients tying up doctors' resources.

"Sometimes they are overwhelmed, because a free service means that people will turn up regularly. And I talked to one GP in the UK, who said he'd seen a patient 150 times in a year," said Dr Murton.

A Government review aimed at "future-proofing" the country's health system is already underway, with a final report due early 2020.


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