Emergency healthcare crisis deepens in Christchurch

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Sep 29, 2023 |

Riccarton Clinic. NZ Doctor.

Yet another Christchurch urgent care practice is having to reduce their hours due to staff shortages.

For the month of October, Riccarton Clinic will be closing at 6pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as Labour Day — on 23 October.

The reduced hours at the clinic coincide with the current overnight closures at the 24-Hour Surgery — which is no longer taking patients daily between 10pm and 8am for the foreseeable future.

In a memo to staff, the Riccarton Clinic manager said, “This decision has been made to protect the safety of our patients and staff.”

Riccarton Clinic’s co-owner and director Dr Angus Chambers told Chris Lynch Media, “We feel really bad for our patients but we feel for our staff, too. We just can’t afford for them to be burnt out.”

“It feels really bad [to reduce hours]. We’re in this job because we care about people and help, and with reduced hours we’re not in a position to do this,” Chambers said.

With shorter hours at both Riccarton Clinic and the 24-Hour Surgery, Moorhouse Medical Centre is the only other option for patients needing urgent care. However, Moorhouse has had its own staffing issues, having to close at 4pm twice already this week.

Clinical director of urgent care at Moorhouse Medical Dr Steve Walker told Chris Lynch Media he believes limited patient access to general practitioners is the reason for the unprecedented stress on urgent care services.

“We used to see a lot of ACC injuries, sickness and sore throats that couldn’t wait for a GP, but now with GP access so poor — patients used to be able to book in with their GP within one or two days, but now it’s two to three weeks — so we’re filling up with patients that would usually be seen by their GP, especially children and geriatrics,” Walker said.

Chambers agrees. “The only way to turn the dial is in investment. Not in reviews or consultants, it needs to go into general practices.”

“We need to attract those international professionals and retain the medical graduates. We need to make it attractive. If you can earn three times the salary in Australia, wouldn’t you? We’re far too short-sighted in New Zealand at both political and bureaucratic level,” Chambers said.

In a statement to questions put to them by Chris Lynch Media, a Te Whatu Ora – Waitaha Canterbury spokesperson said they “continue to closely monitor pressures on the system to ensure people receive appropriate care”.

“Workforce shortages are a global issue and we are doing all we can to ensure care remains available to those who need it,” the spokesperson said.

However, Chambers disagrees. “It’s a hollow excuse to blame the international market. It’s a cop out, an excuse,” he said.

The full Te Whatu Ora statement:

“There are a number of alternatives to support people with appropriate care in the community. For those with urgent requirements, Christchurch Hospital’s Emergency Department offers emergency care 24/7. 

“If people don’t need immediate emergency care, we encourage them to access appropriate alternative care options.

“We encourage people to call their usual general practice or speak to their local pharmacist for health advice. People can Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for advice on what to do and where to go if they do need to be seen urgently.

“There are a number of services available for people with non-urgent health problems, if they can’t get in to see their usual general practice team.

  • Minor injuries and illnesses like colds, coughs, fevers and mild COVID-19 can be treated safely at home. Check out the free advice available on Healthify in the Health A to Z https://healthify.nz/health-a-z/

  • People can visit https://yourbestcare.co.nz/ to learn more about the healthcare choices available to them.

  • Consider a virtual appointment with a NZ-registered Doctor who can give advice and prescriptions etc online via phone, laptop or other device, from the comfort of your own home (https://healthify.nz/apps/v/virtual-consult-apps/)

  • Free health advice is available 24/7 from Healthline on 0800 611 116.

  • Your local pharmacy can advise on over-the-counter medications and treatments including pain management.

  • Most Canterbury pharmacies are also offering free advice and where applicable, free medicines for certain minor health conditions for eligible people. See more: https://bit.ly/43Vx94z

  • Many GPs can issue repeat prescriptions over the phone or online during normal working hours.

  • If you have a sprain or injury, you can go straight to a physio without a referral during normal week day hours – they can register an ACC claim, and organise X-rays and specialist referrals.

“A reminder, if you have a life-threatening emergency, do not hesitate, call 111.”

Chambers warns that patients presenting with a fever should not consider it “minor” as suggested by Te Whatu Ora. “A fever is not minor. It’s a sign of a cold, meningitis or even cancer. Someone with a fever should be seen by a doctor, not a pharmacist.”

If staff shortages continue at Riccarton Clinic, the reduced hours may need to be extended through until the end of November.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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