Keep watch on hospital, retiring doctor warns

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Dr Chris Ryan has officially hung up his stethoscope and left his Ashburton medical practice.

Dr Ryan, 65, is planning to “sit in the sun” at Lincoln in his retirement. He spent the past 31 years as GP at Moore Street Medical Centre.

He moved to Ashburton with his wife, Mairead and two young children in the late 1980s after finding life in Wellington not to his liking.

“When you have a young family your priorities change a lot. City life doesn’t have the same attraction as it used to have and you’re thinking more of schools and space, and flat land to kick a ball around,” he said.

“Ashburton’s a prosperous town, although it was going through a very hard time then, schooling was good, housing was very reasonable.

“It seemed a very good package and I found it was better than I expected. I found it very pleasant.”

There have been some highs and lows with many changes in the community in the past 30 years.

“When I came it was probably the whitest place in the country but now it’s very cosmopolitan and I’ve found that quite interesting and enjoyable really.”

“It’s very much like Wellington with people mixing together more. I think that’s very exciting and stimulating.”

However recruiting younger GPs to the area was an ongoing issue as well as getting access to specialist medical care.

It was getting harder to get patients in need access to see specialists, or in for surgery, especially those in real need, he said.

While on-call commitments had eased there was still fewer young doctors wanting to commit to a community practice, with many not ready to set down roots.

He said the loss of specialist medical care in the district and the downgrading of Ashburton Hospital was a concern.

“We lost quite a bit when we lost our specialists. You’re getting letters back from bureaucracy saying (patients) don’t meet criteria … and some of them are pretty well crippled or in agony. There just isn’t the attempt to get them in.”

He said there was often no clear way to go forward with a case.

“Once upon a time you could send a letter to a senior colleague and it would be considered and they had an obligation to reply to you. The public health service has largely shrugged its shoulders on that really.

“The district health board is now blaming having to get things done in the private sector with specialists.

“To a large extent (those specialists have) felt disenfranchised with a lack of medical leadership and so they have decided you can’t do the job without us so you’ll have to do it on our terms, with the patient being lost in the middle really.”

Dr Ryan said it was important Mid Cantabrians kept a watch on what was happening with the Canterbury District Health Board.

“There has been lots of money overspent but not much of it in Ashburton. It’s very much a kneejerk reaction in the city too, as I found from my one term on the hospital board, to cut off the periphery from the facilities. I think if people value what they are getting now they should watch it carefully.”

He believed there was a lot of staff employed over the years but they had not been used efficiently.

“There have been a lot of contracts signed in Christchurch but with not with a great deal of patient benefit.”

The debt incurred at the district health board was not all to do with earthquake recovery, he said.

“I’ve been very lucky to work in the time I have, and there has still been a sense of doctor/patient relationship going … I’ve had some marvellous patients which has made my life very satisfying.

You hear now medical centres seemingly want to stop patients from seeing the doctor.”

There was less doctor continuity which resulted in a loss of personal service.

“I’ve often thought I was the last family grocer and the supermarkets are taking over,” he said.