26 May 2021

Short-term fix in place as regional doctor shortage strikes Bombala

| Hannah Sparks
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John Barilaro and Bronnie Taylor on a conference call in meeting room

NSW Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro John Barilaro, and NSW Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor at a meeting with Southern NSW Local Health District and Primary Health Network. Photo: John Barilaro Facebook.

Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) has extended its employment of a locum medical officer in Bombala following news the rural community’s only medical practice would close due to a staff shortage.

A media release from SNSWLHD on 25 May said the medical officer who began work at Bombala Medical Centre on 3 May will stay on until the middle of July.

Bombala Medical Centre is also working with locum general practitioners to extend its service provisions from July.

“These doctors will support local residents who are unable to travel outside of Bombala for medical care,” said the media release.

Bombala Medical Centre co-owner Dr Hamish Steiner welcomes the news, but said it is only a short-term solution.

He advised patients who can access a GP outside Bombala to do so while he and his team identify long-term GP care options.

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“Ideally, we need two full-time GPs living in Bombala,” said Dr Steiner. “The practice has about 1800 active patients and the theory is there should be one GP for every 1000 patients.

“The majority of Bombala’s population is over-65s so the town could really support two-and-a-half GPs.”

He said he is hopeful that meetings with politicians, SNSWLHD, and the Primary Health Network can find a long-term solution.

“Perhaps a solution could be to have doctors from Canberra provide two days in Bombala every fortnight,” said Dr Steiner. “That would be more sustainable and would keep things going if a GP did leave again.”

Without a GP based in Bombala, patients face lengthy travel times to the next nearest GP in Cooma, Jindabyne, Bega or Merimbula.

Dr Steiner tried to find a GP to replace the retiring doctor at Bombala Medical Centre, but he said the search has been “impossible”.

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“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 said it would be very hard to reopen the medical centre once it closes.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford said it should never have been left to the medical centre to find a replacement GP.

“It’s only once it’s a complete crisis that the government steps in,” she said. “There needs to be shared responsibilities and a solid integrated plan so it’s not left to the practice to solve.”

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said he welcomes news of a locum medical officer in Bombala, but that “more needs to be done”.

“It has been agreed today that the [SNSWLHD] will take the lead in finding a permanent solution that will have the community at its heart,” he said.

“We know that attracting and keeping GPs in our rural and regional areas is a challenge.

“Bombala will be a pilot for how we can tackle this issue across southern NSW.

“I will keep the community updated as we continue our path forward.”

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