'Crude' 20-year-old funding model putting immense pressure on NZ's GPs

Doctors have revealed they believe the pressure on New Zealand's GPs is like a train wreck waiting to happen. 

The Health Minister has acknowledged the decades-old funding model for GPs is "crude", but says it'll be next year before any review is carried out. 

Donna Marshall has been a doctor for 30 years. She loves her job, but says the country's GPs are undervalued and overworked. 

"There's a lot of unmet need and there's a lot of increased need, particularly in mental health. We're exhausted."

A recent survey of more than 5500 GPs found:

  • 31 percent reported "high" levels of burnout,
  • The median age of our GPs is 52 years old,
  • 14 percent would not recommend a career in general practice
  • And almost half (49 percent) plan to retire in the next 10 years. 

Dr Daniel Calder, a GP at Botany Junction Medical Centre, says he is seeing high levels of stress and anxiety in patients and in staff.

President of the Royal NZ College of GPs Dr Samantha Murton says it "looks like it's getting worse", not better. 

"Not having GPs to go to is a disaster really for lots of people and we know there are parts of the country where that's a problem already."

The issues patients are presenting with are complex and numerous - but GPs are expected to manage their needs within 15 minutes, a consult model Marshall says is broken. 

"[It's] obsolete essentially. The reason it's still 15 minutes essentially is because of funding," she told Newshub.

She says there is also a big wait for teenage mental health services. 

"It's not unusual for our patients to be waiting four to five months to see a specialist mental health service. These are teenagers that are actively suicidal."

With every patient visit, there's also paperwork that can often only be done outside of paid hours. 

Dr Calder says for every hour he sees patients, there is another half an hour of administrative work.

Despite changing demands, the Government's funding model for GPs is 20 years old. The funding is based on the number of enrolled patients at a practice, but it doesn't consider aspects like ethnicity, poverty or the household situation of the patient. 

Health Minister Andrew Little told Newshub the current funding model is "crude".  

He accepted the 15-minute consult is not fit for purpose, and said the funding model will be reviewed, but not until next year. 

Dr Murton says her worry is the system "will fall over" while they wait.

She says that concern is only heightened with the added workload of COVID-19 vaccinations when the mass campaign gets underway.