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Three Rivers Medical bucks national trend with three permanent GPs

14 July 2017
As GP shortages continue to affect the country our provincial medical centre is bucking the trend.


Nick Wright and Hiria Nielsen
Drs Nick Wright and Hiria Nielsen

“This is a good news story – one that should be celebrated."

RNZCGP President Dr Tim Malloy

Three Rivers Medical in Gisborne has added three permanent GPs to its staff which is great news for the practice’s patients and a huge relief to the practice owners.

 “It’s absolutely fabulous to have these three talented doctors added to our staff,” says Three Rivers Medical co-owner and GP Simon Spenceley.

 “It means more choice and appointment times for patients and the addition of three unique sets of skills to the practice. It’s been a long time since we added just one permanent doctor - and now we have added three.”

 The significance of retaining three highly qualified doctors in a relatively remote area such as Gisborne cannot be understated, says Dr Spenceley.

“Gisborne faces skilled labour shortages across a number of sectors including forestry, engineering, and transport, and the health sector is no different.”

 Three Rivers Medical has 18,500 enrolled patients making it one of the largest general practices in the country. The additional GPs bring its number of permanent doctors to 13.

 The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has been raising concerns about a looming GP shortage for a number of years.

 College President Dr Tim Malloy was thrilled to learn that Three Rivers Medical has had success in attracting new staff.

 “The shortage across the country has partly arisen because fewer GPs were trained during the 1990s, which means the current workforce is ageing and heading towards retirement.”

 “It’s also partly because many of our younger GPs are working part-time – which means we need more GPs just to maintain the current number of GP hours worked.”

 College research shows that 57 percent of GPs across New Zealand are aged 50 or over – compared to 1998 when this group accounted for just 16 percent of the GP workforce. 

 “We also know that 44 percent of our current GPs intend to retire in the next 10 years”, adds Dr Malloy, a rural GP himself.

 “In Tairāwhiti, according to last year’s workforce survey data, 53 percent of respondents reported having a vacancy for a GP and 35 percent indicated they intend to retire within the next five years.”

 “Of course one of the perpetual problems faced by our sector, and many others too, is the challenge of attracting people to live in rural and provincial centres.

But the attraction of sunny relaxed Gisborne is exactly why the three new permanent Three Rivers Medical GPs have stayed.

Dr Hiria Nielsen, Rongomaiwahine, Ngati Porou, is from Mahia. She graduated as a doctor in 2012 and with her young family is now settled in Gisborne. She can’t think of anywhere else she’d like to work.

 “The continuity of care is good for patients and I love my growing list. I get told by patients they get weary of telling different doctors the same story but I already know their story and we can pick up where we left off. I can see exactly what improvements are being made over time and change things where necessary.”

 “Having my baby here secured the deal for me. I love Gisborne, everything you need is here.”

 Dr Nick Wright is originally from Auckland and this year led a Gisborne research team studying the effects of an all-you-can-eat plant-based diet. Gisborne has the highest rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in New Zealand, and the highly acclaimed research was published this year in Nutrition and Diabetes. Nick remains committed to ongoing research but he says there are also other reasons for staying in Gisborne.

 “The last time it took more than five minutes to drive to work was a long time ago. I suppose you get used to being spoilt with these things. It’s a fun environment to work in and while it’s not without its challenges, as a GP I get to see a wider variety of patients than if I was working in the centre of a big city.”

Dr Roslyn Gathercole is originally from England. She carried out her doctor training at Wessex School of General Practice in Hampshire. Doctors, who have done five years of study and two years of general rotation, can then do three years of general practice study. Students in Wessex have the chance to complete some of their general practice training in New Zealand – deep in the South Island or in sunny Gisborne.

 She chose Gisborne and loved the people and lifestyle so much she stayed.

 “I came on the United Kingdom education programme from the south coast of England and it was meant to be for only four months. I felt at home straight away and love this place.”

 “I really enjoy the work here and the challenging and diverse population we have. You face interesting medical challenges due to the high demand for secondary care.”

 Dr Malloy commends the three GPs who have committed to working at Three Rivers Medical.

 “I’m sure I speak on behalf of the practice and its patients, that these doctors will be seen as a much-needed and appreciated asset to the whole community.”

 “This is a good news story – one that should be celebrated.  GPs are an integral part of the community and we’re extremely pleased these three doctors are bucking the trend, and choosing to make their home in Gisborne.”