02 July 2012

The rollout of free after-hours doctors’ visits for children aged under-six is integral to improving child health as it will reduce cost barriers to accessing health care, says the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).

“For some families the cost of after hours care has been unaffordable and a barrier to seeking urgent medical care for their children,” says NZMA Chair Dr Paul Ockelford. “It is of great concern that some children were missing out on treatment.”

“Free after hours will be an important aspect of boosting preventive health, as parents are much less likely to delay seeking treatment. Children will be able to be seen by a doctor before the illness becomes more serious, which in turn will reduce the number of visits to the ED and our high rate of child hospital admissions.”

Dr Ockelford says that the NZMA has been a strong advocate for greater investment in child health to improve lifelong health outcomes and the Government should be commended for this initiative.

“The after hours policy is an important aspect of taking a more child focussed approach to health and treating a child’s illness at the outset, before it becomes severe and leads to serious complications. Many untreated childhood illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, will have health repercussions into adulthood.”

District Health Boards have been advised by Government to continue discussions with GP networks and after hour clinics which have not signed up to the scheme so that free after-hours services are made available to more families throughout the country.