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Tuesday, 29 March 2022 11:55

Covid taking its toll on rural GPs and health services

Written by  Peter Burke
Chair of the Rural GP Network Dr Fiona Bolden. Chair of the Rural GP Network Dr Fiona Bolden.

Rural doctors are under pressure and juggling unrelenting work loads.

That's how the chair of the Rural GP Network describes how she and her colleagues are finding dealing with Covid and other medical situations in rural practices.

Dr Fiona Bolden says the situation is very tricky for rural GPs because they have to continue dealing with their normal workload plus deal with Covid-related issues.

She says the fact that a good proportion of rural doctors are over 65 - and are at increased risk themselves - means it's a case of having to juggle workloads. She adds that there are some rural areas where GP services no longer exist because of the pressure of Covid.

According to Bolden, there appears to be a general level of frustration within communities over Covid and says healthcare workers are often on the receiving end of that.

"People might not like the rules but we don't make them and yet, sometimes, we can be held responsible," she told Rural News.

"It really depends on where you are and who you are within the team. I know that some people have talked about the aggressive behaviours being directed at receptionist staff."

Bolden says people are just worn out as Covid has been going on for such a long time and Omicron is only just getting to the spike. She adds that the lead in to this has been huge.

"We have all been working in this way to accommodate Covid for over a couple of years now and that has had all sorts of impacts on the way we work," she explains.

"The whole job satisfaction is another interesting thing because we have less patient contact and then there is all this heightened awareness about the risk and making sure no infections are transmitted. So, it changes the whole way you work and impacts on your enjoyment on what you are doing."

Bolden says some areas of the country have been hit worse by Covid - making it too hard to generalise.

She says there are even significant differences within the various DHB regions.

"In some areas Omicron appears to have peaked, while other places are still yet to get to that stage."

Other Effects

Dr Fiona Bolden says GPs are having to fight illness and acknowledges that while they are aware of potential problems around mental health, there are other matters of concern.

She points to the issue of long-term health management. This is about people who have had operations cancelled or delayed because of staff shortages at hospitals.

Bolden says if these people can't have operations they inevitably come back to their GPs to help them manage their way through the constant delays and the ongoing health problems. She believes the problem is compounded by the fact that people have not been able to see GPs in person because of Covid.

One GP told Rural News that one particular DHB had closed its waiting list for elective surgery, but before that a wait of up to six months to see a specialist was not uncommon. However, those with medical insurance are effectively able to queue jump and get elective surgery very quickly.

With the focus on Covid, Bolden says another concern is that with winter coming, immunisation rates for other diseases may falter  - especially for children.

Vaccines FBTW

Dr Fiona Bolden says she's concerned vaccination rates for childhood diseases may drop because of concerns over bringing children into GP clinics.

"That is partly because people haven't wanted to bring their children in to get vaccinated during Covid times," she explains. "We have got people coming into the country too and therefore flu is going to be a problem."

Bolden warns that Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) Infection - which affects babie - will come back in force and other infectious diseases such as measles may also be a problem because of decreased immuniasation rates.

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