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Two additional security staff were stationed at Thames Hospital over the summer period, following a nationwide increase in reported verbal and physical incidents. FILE PHOTO

Geriatric outpatient clinics on pause until 2024

A staffing shortage has led to Thames Hospital being unable to hold its weekly geriatric outpatient clinics until April, 2024.
Local MP Scott Simpson said he was “concerned” for Coromandel’s ageing demographic, and more needed to be done within the health sector to retain staff.
Te Whatu Ora Health NZ’s interim group director operations for Waikato, Michelle Sutherland, said the organisation funded six full-time equivalent geriatricians in the Waikato, but due to a recent retirement and staff turnover, just four remained.
“An additional doctor has been hired but does not start until February next year, and we are recruiting for the one vacant role,” she said.
“One of the doctors who recently finished was responsible for operating the geriatric outpatient clinic sessions in Thames, which were held one afternoon each week, so this has been paused as we work to resume full staffing levels. We may be able to resume the Thames clinic sessions earlier than April if recruitment is successful.”
Sutherland said that while the clinic was attended by “very small numbers”, Te Whatu Ora wanted to “make sure all those who did use the service continue to have access to quality care”.
A review is underway for all affected patients to ensure they have care plans in place, she said.
“If they do need to be seen by a doctor, there are options to access a general medicine doctor at Thames where clinically appropriate, or to travel to Waikato to see a geriatrician. There are a number of free shuttle options available to support travel to and from Waikato Hospital.”
However, Coromandel MP Scott Simpson told The Profile that even if the number of people impacted was minor, it was still “unsatisfactory”.
“We’ve got a challenging geography and an ageing demographic, so to have any kind of health service delayed or not available for a period of time creates problems and issues for the people concerned,” he said.
“And for Health NZ to simply say they don’t have staff, I would hope they’d have, frankly, a more imaginative and better solution than that.”
Mr Simpson said the health system had to get better at retaining its workers.
“To do that, it means that working conditions have to be improved. Many of our frontline health staff are at breaking point… there needs to be a much greater focus on keeping the people we’ve got already, and then obviously recruiting more as if necessary.”
Mr Simpson encouraged all those impacted by the clinic’s temporary closure to “keep pushing their GP to provide that access”.
“We know that [the pause will] have an impact, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep pushing, shouldn’t keep asking, and shouldn’t keep expecting to have referrals available locally.”