JANICE DAY collects a signature from Rebecca Sacco, one of hundreds of Opotiki people signing a petition calling for free after-hours health care in Opotiki. Photo supplied

OPOTIKI nurse Donna Snelling is collecting signatures for a petition calling on health authorities to keep the after-hours health service free.

Ms Snelling is one of several Opotiki nurses whose services are being terminated at the end of the month following the closure of the Opotiki Community Health Centre’s free after-hours service in December.

A new GP-led health model is being established in Opotiki and in the interim the only after-hours service being offered is between 5pm and 11pm.

Ms Snelling said she started the online and hard copy petition on Friday night and by yesterday had 267 signatures. She is also holding a public meeting on Thursday night and is encouraging members of the public to come along to discuss the after-hours healthcare situation.

The meeting is at 6pm at the Opotiki Senior Citizens Hall on King Street and will include speakers Lesley Tetley; a registered nurse from Rotorua who works with at risk youth, as well as Mayor Lyn Riesterer.

“All are welcome, it is an open community meeting to discuss the after-hours being free and also to ask what is available now.”

Ms Snelling said the public was confused about what services were available.

“Everyone is so confused. Even the police turned up the other evening at 7 o’clock They didn’t know if we were open and they had a patient for us.

“And, of course, we are open and have been open until 11 o clock each night, since the closure.

“If the community police don’t know we are open how can they expect the community to know?

Ms Snelling said the Opotiki Women’s Institute had volunteered to collect signatures for the petition at New World and in Church Street today, so that those who did not have social media could sign the petition.

A petition post for written signatures will be at the RSA from 5pm to 6.30pm tomorrow.

“The kaupapa is about keeping the after-hours free and also informing the community.”

Ms Snelling said the Opotiki Independent Nursing Services (OPINS) has held the Bay of Plenty District Health Board contract which serviced after hours care 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week for the past 25 years.

“This health model was a nurse-led service.

“The problem the Opotiki Community faces under the new business model of medical care is if you access the after-hours health centre and need to see a doctor face to face in Opotiki you will have to pay a fee.”

She said it was not fair on Opotiki residents and many of the people using the after-hours service would not be able to afford to pay a doctor.

She said patients living in Whakatane or on the East Coast had 24-hour free access to health care which included seeing doctors face to face.

“Under the new model, the collective GP clinics will not be undertaking any maternity care. Independent midwives will be responsible for maternity services and no post care hospital stay services are offered in Opotiki.”

Ms Snelling said the community had not been informed nor consulted about these changes.

Over the past four years she had treated mothers who could not call their midwife to inform them they might be in labour because they did not have the money to charge their mobile phones, as well as children having asthmas attacks but did not have Ventolin because their family could not afford GP costs to get a repeat script.