Local doctor shortage examined in Senate probe

Indigo Lemay-ConwaySound Telegraph
The shortage of GPs has led to longer wait times, taking a toll on local families and doctors themselves.
Camera IconThe shortage of GPs has led to longer wait times, taking a toll on local families and doctors themselves. Credit: orzalaga/Pixabay (user orzalaga)

The shortage of GPs in Brand is finally under the spotlight as the first public hearing of a Senate inquiry examining the issue begins in Canberra.

Labor called for the inquiry in a bid to investigate the critical lack of doctors across outer metropolitan, rural and regional Australia.

Submissions have been made to the inquiry from a range of organisations, including doctors, GP practice managers, universities, peak bodies, health advocates and concerned patients.

One of those is the owner of Core Medical in Port Kennedy, Dr Eoin McDonnell. His submission said outer metropolitan practices such as his would become a “no-man’s-land” if they continued to be classified as a non-distribution priority area.

“When my practice opened in 2016, the Port Kennedy area was classified as a District of Workforce Shortage. This meant that we could recruit international graduates from overseas as they were able to obtain a work visa to enter Australia,” Dr McDonnell said.

“In July 2019, the DWS system was changed to the Distribution Priority Area system and the whole of metropolitan Perth from Yanchep in the north to Mandurah in the south was classified as non-DPA.

“This change, in one stroke, has effectively turned off our main source of supply for trained GPs. In my five years of practice ownership, despite constant recruiting and offering generous incentives, I have only been able to recruit one Australian-trained GP.”

Dr McDonnell said over the next few years, he foresaw that GPs would gradually move from outer metro areas to the cities, and their vacant jobs would be left unfilled because of practices’ inability to recruit, leaving the health of the communities to suffer.

“Practices like mine will suffer particularly and will become a no-man’s-land as we are too far from the CBD to attract locally trained doctors, while also been classified as non-DPA,” Dr McDonnell said.

“We are essentially being penalised for our geographical location.”

Local GP practice leader Professor Martin Samy said the shortage of GPs was leading to longer wait times, taking a toll on local families and doctors themselves.

“Doctors are doing their best to support our community’s health needs, and there’s a real risk that some local surgeries will close because there aren’t enough doctors,” Professor Samy said.

Member for Brand Madeline King said she was aware of the GP shortages in the area, and the community needed solutions to the crisis, which was only getting worse.

“I hear it all the time when I’m out and about in the community — people are finding it really hard to see a doctor when they need it, and the pandemic has only made it more challenging,” Ms King said.

The Senate inquiry will examine the Government’s current geographical classification system, the stronger Rural Health Strategy, GP training reforms, and the effects of the Medicare rebate freeze. It will also assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on doctor shortages in outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australia.

The inquiry is ongoing, and the report is expected to be submitted by March 2022.

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