New doc fills GP gap

THE GENERAL practitioner community in Terrace is growing with the addition this month of Dr. Piet Van Niekerk from South Africa.

THE GENERAL practitioner community in Terrace is growing with the addition this month of Dr. Piet Van Niekerk from South Africa.

His arrival should ease any temporary troubles in people finding a family doctor, says Dr. Geoff Appleton, who is the area’s medical director for the Northern Health Authority.

“He’s arriving after what is a very long immigration procedure,” said Appleton of Van Niekerk, who starts this month.

The availability of general practitioners tightened up when Dr. Jaco Fourie left his practice in Terrace to work full time with cancer treatment services at Mills Memorial Hospital.

“That created a bit of a gap,” said Appleton.

Another gap came when Appleton left his full-time practice to become the half-time medical director.

Dr. Donald Strangway then took over the other half of Appleton’s practice but he is now retiring.

A new physician, Dr. Nina Fourie, also started earlier this year and has helped relieve some of the pressure on the general practitioner community.

For the most part, Terrace has been spared physician supply problems that have ranged in other places anywhere from doctors not taking new patients at all to places that have lost their physicians altogether.

Appleton did say there was room for two more general practitioners in any event.

“And we only have two female general practitioners in town and generally speaking, many female patients would prefer to have a female doctor,” he said.

The local medical community is looking for a full-time ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to replace the last permanent one, who left for Vancouver Island a few years ago.

Services had been provided by a visiting specialist from Vancouver and then most recently by a Kamloops specialist although there are no set in-service times established.

But the lack of such a specialist based in Terrace has caused lengthy referrals to communities where there either is one based or where one has a regularly visitation schedule.

“We have OR time for an ear, nose and throat person so that’s not a problem,” said Appleton.

“Fortunately there are not a huge number of emergencies with ENT although there may be times when a youngster needs a tonsillectomy.”

But Appleton did warn it is hard to recruit just one person with a specific specialty to smaller centres.

The more specialists there are of a certain kind, the easier it is for those specialists to have scheduled days and time off without being called out unexpectedly, he said.

And in some circumstances, recruiting a specialist can be easier if there are specialists of a complementary nature already working at the location.