The remote community of Bombala, on the edge of the NSW Snowy Mountains, will soon be forced to travel hours to see a doctor in Cooma, Jindabyne, Bega or Merimbula when their only medical practice closes.
Bombala Medical Centre owner Dr Hamish Steiner said he will be forced to close the practice when its GP retires at the end of April.
Dr Steiner said it has been impossible to find a replacement.
“We are running out of doctors,” he said. “It is a problem in all of NSW. There are not enough incentives to get doctors out into the country.”
Dr Steiner also owns The Bombala Street Surgery in Cooma and agreed to take over Bombala Medical Centre in 2020 following a desperate plea from the then-retiring GP and owner.
“Dr Colin Pate couldn’t find anyone else – he basically gave it to us,” said Dr Steiner.
Bombala Hospital has a resident doctor for three weeks per month who provides some GP hours from a practice inside the hospital.
However, the hospital told Dr Steiner he would be too busy after Bombala Medical Centre closes and will need to give up those hours.
Not only will Bombala be without a GP, but the two receptionists at the practice will also lose their jobs, said Dr Steiner.
He has approached Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and NSW Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor for help.
Ms McBain said she has written to Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt asking for an urgent solution, and launched a petition asking the Morrison Government to better support local doctors.
“We need to keep and attract new GPs to regional communities,” she said.
Dr Steiner is also worried about how residents at Bombala’s nursing home will access a GP.
“It’s distressing to close the practice, but it’s too expensive to keep open without a doctor,” he said.
Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford said this situation is not uncommon in regional NSW.
“While there are incentives for registrars to work in regional towns, some of those incentives are also available to registrars who choose to work in Canberra,” she said.
“Why would a doctor drive two hours to Bombala and back if they can earn the same in Canberra?”
Dr Steiner said his Cooma practice is involved in a government traineeship initiative. However, of the 10 applications the Cooma practice often receives, only one can be accepted.
“It’s really painful to tell registrars we can’t accept them,” he said.
Dr Steiner said his Cooma practice has also recently lost two GPs who left to work in Sydney.
“They can earn really good money there,” he said.
Ms Rutherford said Bombala Hospital should help find a GP for the practice that is facing imminent closure.
“NSW Health shouldn’t leave the recruitment of a local doctor to the practice, and it shouldn’t be about the hospital employing one doctor,” she said. “The doctor should work across both centres.”
Dr Steiner said it’s also in NSW Health’s best interest to find another doctor otherwise the hospital will face more pressure.