Parents are angry that they will now have to dig into their pockets for their sick child to see a doctor at White Cross in Whangārei.
Prior to July 3, these visits were free, but they have now risen to $49 minimum, depending upon the age of the child and whether they’re registered with a local GP.
The change is limited to medical conditions and for those visiting during normal hours (8am - 4pm, Monday to Friday). Those with injuries are covered through ACC and a small window from 5pm until 8pm is free, as well as weekends.
The impact of the cost will transfer to parents of younger children, many of whom are struggling with the cost of living and the influx of illnesses that take hold at this time of year.
Privately owned by the biggest private healthcare company in NZ, Tāmaki Health, White Cross is often utilised as a last port of call for parents who can’t get in with their GP, especially when their child has a condition that won’t go away on its own. Sickness such as strep throat can deteriorate fast if not treated early on.
It is expected that the fallout will be felt in the emergency department at Whangārei Hospital, which has been facing significant pressures such as long wait times and short staffing.
Single mother Sara May said she is “pretty p***** off” about the change.
“They shouldn’t be charged for being so little, it’s just not ethical. I don’t think it’s right.”
Sara May and her son Xavier, soon to be two years old. Photo / Tania Whyte
May described raising the prices as “aggravating”, particularly with the cost of living as a solo parent.
“Paying $49 for him [her son] to see someone about a snotty nose that won’t get better just baffles me.”
Tāmaki Health CEO Dr Lloyd McCann said the decision to charge for under-14s was driven by “significant cost pressures” faced by the private organisation and all urgent care providers.
Price increases have been implemented across White Cross clinics, located primarily in Auckland.
There are nine centres in the Auckland area. Whangārei is the latest centre to experience an increase.
“The White Cross Whangārei clinic is an urgent care clinic, not a general practice, so does not receive any capitation funding directly for enrolled patients that may present in normal hours, as is the case with general practice clinics,” he said.
“Much of the funding for patients under 14, seen in hours, comes from the historic General Medical Services Subsidy (GMS) first introduced in the 1940s. This funding has not changed significantly since 2002, yet the inflationary pressures over the last two decades have been immense.”
“While Te Whatu Ora introduced significant funding for general practices progressively from 2016 (zero fees for under-14s), this did not include any funding changes for urgent care clinics’ patients seen in normal hours.”
McCann said the funding outside of normal hours is structured in a way that encourages people to use their enrolled GP during normal hours.
But urgent care spans all times of the day, and one mother, Georgia Kidd, believes parents are now going to head to emergency departments in a last-ditch attempt to access it.
Kidd heard about the rise after posts on Whangārei parent Facebook pages raised the alarm.
Georgia Kidd and her 13-month-old son, Archer. Photo / Tania Whyte
“You can’t get into them [GPs] for love or money, so it’s either people aren’t going to get their kids seen, or they’re going to be going to ED and waiting for hours.”
She said if she was in a position with her 13-month-old where he may need aid, she’d do the same.
“I know that’s not ideal, but $49 is a lot of money,” she said.
She believes blaming the raise on inflation is “bull****”.
“Yes, inflation is hitting everybody, but that’s not the right place to recoup the costs.”
Jensen Webber, CEO of primary health entity Mahitahi Hauora, said the issue is beyond their control. However, they have raised their concerns.
“We are aware of the system pressures that exist for healthcare providers, which in turn impact on whānau and their ability to access care, and we are working with Te Whatu Ora and other stakeholders across the health sector on initiatives to improve access.”
Te Whatu Ora Te Tai Tokerau said the emergency department remains a place to go for those who need it, and a patient may be referred to White Cross and given a voucher for the consultation if appropriate.
Where to go:
If your child requires care and you’re unsure where to go, this link will provide you with answers: northlanddhb.org.nz/home/im-not-well-where-do-i-go/.
You can see how much a visit to White Cross will cost here: whitecross.co.nz/clinics/whangarei.
To see wait times in emergency departments and whether you should seek treatment elsewhere, you can download the app Emergency Q.
Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie recently graduated from Massey University and has a special interest in the environment and investigative reporting.
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