Tim Dower: Is it time to make GP's free?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 28 Apr 2021, 11:41AM
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

Tim Dower: Is it time to make GP's free?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 28 Apr 2021, 11:41AM

The following was overheard a little while back in the waiting room at Middlemore Hospital's Emergency Department.

Two women discussing the long wait to see a doctor.

One was complaining about her sore back.  

The other told the story of her previous visit to the ED, she'd only come in with a cough she said, but ended up staying the night.

It must have been a bad cough.

I only mention that because it illustrated one of the most glaring problems we've got in our health system.

Ask anyone who's worked in A&E and they'll tell you far too many people go there because it's free; they treat it as their first point of contact with the health system.

Hanging around five or six hours to be seen is preferable to going to a GP, where they'd have to pay 40, 50 or 60 dollars for a 10 or 15 minute consultation.

Right now, GPs can pretty much charge what the market will stand for their skills.

They're private businesses.

So naturally enough, people don't go to the GP unless they're really sick, or they're forking out extra for private insurance and claim it back later.

The cost of that short visit is a direct disincentive to get treatment early, and save a person trying to ride something out.

Sometimes things don't get better, they get a lot worse, and left long enough people can end up in dire straits, needing an ambulance and ending up as a genuine emergency patient.

All because we put up a financial barrier to a quick, easy and much cheaper solution.

If we were bold, we'd not just make GP visits free for everyone.

If we wanted to be really proactive, we'd offer a free annual check for everyone and pick up a lot of treatable illness, before it becomes life threatening.

We'd need more doctors at the front end, for sure, but fewer ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and a lot less people cluttering up A&E with their coughs.