More GPs (and other developments) at Mercury Bay Medical Centre

12 Oct 2021

The GPs and staff at Mercury Bay Medical Centre would like to say thank you to their patients for the support they have received during what has been a very pressured time. Over the school holidays in July this year, the practice lost a number of doctors, putting them in the difficult position of only having four GPs over a very busy period of the year. They managed to provide care to all patients in need with the support and understanding of the community. 

Since then, they have been actively working to build their workforce back up. There are now six fulltime doctors plus three visiting locums working in the practice, with three new doctors scheduled to arrive in mid-January next year from the UK, Norway and the USA. One new doctor has a speciality in chronic aged care.

The practice has also appointed a new nurse practitioner, Kathryn Johnson, who has come to Whitianga after 15 years at Starship Hospital in Auckland. Kathryn specialises in paediatric nursing with a particular focus on paediatric emergency care. She has previously worked at the Royal London Hospital, where she specialised in trauma care. On her return to New Zealand, she worked for St John Ambulance before returning to nursing at Starship’s emergency department. 

While at Starship, Kathryn completed a Master of Nursing degree and became a paediatric emergency nurse practitioner, which means she can see patients, treat them and prescribe medications. In her new role at Mercury Bay Medical Centre, she will also train and mentor other nurses towards becoming nurse practitioners, giving them an exciting career option. 

Mel Asquith, the Mercury Bay Medical Centre clinic director, says that one of the biggest challenges they continually face is getting doctors and medical staff out of the city into a rural practice. A rural practice means that the professional staff are on call 24/7 and the healthcare is different from urban areas where there are more accident and emergency facilities available. 

The Mercury Bay Medical Centre staff need to cover many more urgent emergencies than their colleagues in the cities and manage the holiday surges which are endemic to the Mercury Bay area on top of that as well. Mel adds that waiting times around the country for a GP appointment is similar to Mercury Bay at two to three weeks, but the surges in visitors over holiday times put further pressure on their professional staff and appointment times have to be pushed out.

It has been a complex 12 months or so for Mercury Bay Medical Centre with the merger of the Doctors Surgery (the other GP practice that was in Whitianga) into their practice and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic. It meant that the staff have had to adapt to ways of doing things that were always changing. “Our staff have really pulled together,” says Mel. “As essential workers, they simply have had to work through all the changes.” 

With Covid-19, virtual appointments have become a new norm and are still being used in Alert Level 2 as some patients prefer not to come into the practice. In addition, Mercury Bay Medical Centre is busy working with the Waikato District Health Board to roll out a telehealth initiative, giving patients direct video access to DHB specialists, with biometric support provided by the practice. They are planning to start with diabetes as a project and expand from there.

They are also in the process of widening the geographic scope of their practice and have started up a weekly clinic at The Hub in Kuaotunu. The Hub is a community facility providing rooms for non-urgent medical appointments, physiotherapy, naturopathy and other services.  The clinic is running each Tuesday through to Christmas and patients can make appointments through Mercury Bay Medical Centre. 

Plans are also in place for the summer holidays where, from Boxing Day through to mid-January, the practice will be open seven days a week from 8:45am to 5:00pm.

Mercury Bay Medical Centre business manager, Lorraine Macallister, says that they are aware of some dissatisfaction in the community with the impact their staff shortages has had on service levels. “We are actively addressing our staffing levels with the aim of having enough GPs to be able to form solid one-on-one relationships with our patients,” she says. “Anyone having a complaint or issue must please contact me directly so that I can address the issue quickly.”

Pictured - Kathryn Johnson, the new nurse practitioner at Mercury Bay Medical Centre.