A Third of Northland's GPs attend Faculty Conference

The Northland Faculty of the RNZCGP held it’s annual conference on May 16th and 17th in Russell, attracting 73 attendees including 49 of Northland’s GPs, roughly a third of the total workforce

In Northland GPs have been organizing college conferences for more than twenty years, in recent times alternating two day annual conferences with one day symposiums every other six months. These meetings have become an important focal point for GPs to come together in this geographically challenging area. This year the audience heard an eclectic mix of local and national speakers, presenting on a range of clinical and other topics and prompting some lively debates.

The conference was based in the first licensed premises in New Zealand, The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, looking out over the Bay of Islands. During Dr Bill Sugrue’s talk about the history of medicine in Northland we learnt we were also just yards from where Dr Samuel Ford, New Zealand’s first resident doctor lived. Dr Sugrue spoke about the evolution of health services in Northland, including the founding of Northland Base Hospital in 1901. He paid tribute to many outstanding and visionary doctors who have contributed to it’s development and, in particular, to Dr Peter Milson who sadly died last year after decades of work as both a GP and surgeon in Northland.

We were updated on hot topics in gastroenterology by Dr Alisdair Patrick and heard a presentation from Dr John Kennelly on the extensive problems of skin infections and cellulitis, so prevalent in our area. Dr Andrew McClelland, the clinical director of Whangarei Hospital’s Emergency Department, talked to us about the Sad, Traumatic and Infectious presentations to his department and local cardiologist Dr Wong gave us an overview of approaches to the breathless patient.

Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith from the Dept of General Practice at Auckland University gave talks about social contagion and the detection and step-wise management of mental health problems in adolescents. This complemented an update from local Paediatrician Dr Roger Tuck about the new Vulnerable Children’s act and emerging multidisciplinary Children’s Team operating in Whangarei. These presentations led to debate and discussion about the issues facing young people in our area and the available services.

Faculty working to be relevant to Northland GPs

Northland had long been a sub-faculty of the Auckland Faculty, but in 2012 members voted to become an independent Faculty. Since then the board have been working on a number of fronts to increase the faculty’s connections and responsiveness to it’s members, and to advocate for the views of GPs at a Northland level. The conference was an opportunity to hold our AGM and update members about our activities. We now have GP representatives on a number of DHB committees and report back to the members through a blog on our new faculty website, www.northland-rnzcgp.org, which also includes the ‘3 Chillies’ forum for GPs to share Hot topics.

The faculty are also actively working to involve medical students, who contributed poster presentations to the conference, and registrars who we subsidise to attend. We are looking at a mentoring programme for GP registrars and newly qualified GPs in the area – Northland can be a uniquely rewarding but challenging area to work in and we are ever conscious of the need to recruit, support and retain GPs in the area.

In view of these efforts it was gratifying to have such a great turn out and such lively involvement from the floor. There were particular thanks for our Chair Kyle Eggleton, who has spearheaded much of our work, but the comment that the Faculty is becoming increasingly relevant to Northland GPs was particularly welcome.

Our next meeting is due to be held in October. Following requests from faculty members we are planning for this to include a debate with PHO and DHB representatives about the future of primary care and the health services in Northland. Regular updates will be posted on the website where member’s comments and feedback are also encouraged.