Middlemore's DHB pay local GPs up to $1400 an hour to help take pressure off emergency department

By Rowan Quinn for RNZ

Middlemore's DHB funded local GPs up to $1400 an hour over the weekend to help take the pressure off its emergency department.

Twenty-seven general practices in South Auckland offered free appointments over the weekend at the request of Counties Manukau District Health Board, and will do it next week too, because Middlemore Hospital's ED has been overwhelmed.

That comes at a big cost.

In a notice asking clinics to stay open for the free consultations, the DHB said it would fund them $250 per patient on Friday evening and weekend days, and $350 per patient on weekends from 8pm to 11pm.

Most doctors usually see about four patients an hour.

The request to doctors labelled the situation as "critical."

Individual doctors would not get all of the money themselves - the funding was allocated to the clinics for the patients each doctor treated - but it was a sign of how expensive it was to try to solve the immediate problem.

GP Api Talemaitoga is at Cavendish Doctors offered free clinics this weekend.

There were extra overheads to staying open including paying weekend rates for receptionists as well as locum doctors and nurses who were already paid at much higher rates, he said.

While most GPs were happy to help out, and their clinics would get a bit of extra money, the move by the DHB was a sign of how much stress the hospital was under, he said.

Practices were not given enough notice about the plan, with his only told on Friday afternoon, he said.

He was not able to work at his clinic this weekend, but might have been able to with more notice.

"The reception and nursing staff were rushing around trying to find another locum doctor to assist," he said

Better planning was needed, and the DHBs needed to work with GPs to sort a plan for the rest of winter, he said.

It was the busiest time he had ever seen for primary care.

"I don't have all the answers. I just am personally finding it really tiring day in, day out with the demand and so just trying really hard to manage myself and my staff to cope through the winter season," he said.

In normal circumstances, clinics were funded in bulk per patient on their books, rather than by individual appointments, with patients topping up with a co-payment at each visit.

A DHB spokesperson said it was not immediately able to say how many people had taken up the free appointments nor give numbers through its emergency department doors for the weekend.