26 August 2021

Doctor shortage across parts of NSW at 'crisis point', says MP

| Kim Treasure
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Fiona Phillips

Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips is urging constituents to make submissions to a Senate inquiry into rural and regional health services. Photo: Elise Searson.

The shortage of general practitioners across parts of regional NSW is at crisis point, according to Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips.

Welcoming a Senate inquiry into the provision of primary health services to rural and regional Australians, Ms Phillips said practical, positive solutions are needed.

“The GP shortage issue in my electorate is at crisis point,” she said.

“In the Bay and Basin area alone, we have seen seven doctors retire, with the one remaining doctor, at the Sanctuary Point Medical Centre, also retiring soon and no replacement in sight.

“Further, there is no difference [to the situation] within the Eurobodalla [Shire]. Constituents across Batemans Bay and Moruya are contacting my office and providing firsthand accounts of how it takes too long to get an appointment … [one] explaining her wait was 10 to 20 days.”

READ ALSO Bombala left without a GP as medical practice closes

The inquiry into the provision of GPs within regional, rural and outer metropolitan areas nationwide is now open for submissions with a final report to be handed down next year.

The inquiry will examine policies such as the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, reforms to distribution priority areas, and the Modified Monash Model geographical classification system, which determines whether a location is city, rural, remote or very remote.

“The system is broken,” said Ms Phillips in a speech to Federal Parliament.

“A lack of doctors and other medical professionals across Australia is not a new problem, but a series of government decisions and the COVID-19 pandemic means it really is time to spotlight this critical issue before people are left with no healthcare options in their community.

READ ALSO Surviving (another) lockdown: Dr Thewes on finding routine, home-schooling and limiting screen time

“We need practical, positive solutions to make sure Australians have access to quality health care regardless of where they live.

“We now have a two-tier medical system where those who have lost their GP due to practice closure, retirement or relocation … have little or no access to a general practitioner.

“There is so much that needs to be done to improve regional people’s access to GPs. More than ever, the government needs to start listening.”

The inquiry’s terms of reference include the current state of GPs and related services in the region, and the impact of government reforms, including policies such as the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, GP training reforms, the Medicare rebate freeze, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on doctor shortages in outer metropolitan, rural and regional Australia.

Anyone wanting to make a submission to the Senate inquiry can do so here. The final report is due to be handed down on the last parliament sitting day in March 2022.

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There are thousands of international medical graduates, present in Australia, looking for their first doctor job in Australia. They previously may have worked in their country of registration, so they do have experience. Some of them also have passed the Australian medical council exams. Many of them are very happy to relocate and settle down at rural locations. The hurdle is “recency of practice” clause imposed by AHPRA. Many such doctors could not travel back to their countries to maintain their recency of practice due to covid. While it is important to maintain recency in medical practice, system here also needs to provide alternative platforms to achieve that for those who are present in Australia and have dedicated significant time preparing for exam, hence remaining out of clinical work for several months to a year or two. I know this, because I am one of them! If you are interested, please google “ahpra supervision level” as well.

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