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Cash-starved Family Planning can‘t meet demand

Photo: File image

 

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says it is shameful that Family Planning has been pushed to a point where it is having to apologise to patients.

 

This week it said it cannot meet demand and patients are facing long waits for appointments.

 

It said despite population growth, escalating costs and increasing need for services, it has faced 12 years with no funding increase from government.

 

Family Planning, New Zealand’s biggest sexual health organisation is now failing to meet demand after Covid-19.

 

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said they were already struggling pre-covid and lockdown had caused more disruption, with long phone waits and clinics having no available appointments for months.

 

“Even prior to lockdown we were struggling to keep up. We had waiting times and difficulties getting through the demand for services,” says Jackie.

 

“And the added impact of lockdown has made it even more difficult, and we’ve seen a significant increase in demand for appointments.”

 

Family Planning provides a range of sexual and reproductive health services including birth control, STI testing and treatment, pregnancy help and information on healthy relationships and gender identity.

 

Jackie says the non-for-profit charitable organisation received more than 1000 calls a day, with some people waiting on hold for more than five minutes, and 300 booking queries through their website a day.

 

Figures she'd received show after covid, website traffic had gone up 60 per cent, and they were receiving more complaints than ever through their social media pages.

 

“We are trying incredibly hard to respond, but we are definitely seeing people waiting for a long time when they're calling, and we can see that lots of people are hanging up because they’re giving up.”

 

The organisation operated with over-the-phone consultations during lockdown, but in-person appointments were pushed out until lower alert levels were reached.

 

Jackie says although they'd tried to do more phone consultations to ease the load and increase their hours, among other things, ultimately it came down to a lack of funding and support.

 

“The funding we receive through our Government contracts has not substantively increased in 12 years.

 

“In effect this means we’re being asked to run our clinics on the same budget we got 12 years ago –despite population growth, more complex appointments and increasing demand for our services.”

 

“We’ve done everything we can to try to improve it but the demand is out-stripping our ability to respond.”

 

Jackie apologised to patients for the long wait and said they were working on more ways to improve their services.

 

“We feel very bad about this issue.”

Family Planning CEO Jackie Edmond said lockdown had made an already struggling system even worse.

ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton says Family Planning has been providing essential and valuable services for thousands of New Zealand women against a backdrop of chronic underfunding.

“Every time we go into pay negotiations with our senior doctors at Family Planning, they tell us they are constrained by the Ministry of Health contracts they are under. It’s well past time that the Ministry addressed the long starve they have forced NGOs like Family Planning into”.

“When you talk about investment in health - is there anything that pays a greater dividend than supporting women to plan their fertility, maintain their reproductive health, and get evidence-based advice and support?”

Sarah Dalton says Family Planning is not the one which should be apologising to patients.

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