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‘Catastrophically worse’: Rural GP begging for change


Michelle Wisbey


3/10/2023 2:44:29 PM

An award-winning doctor is calling for an overhaul of registrar allocations, saying regional medicine is in an ‘existential crisis’.

Female and male doctors standing in clinic.
Dr Vaneeta Monteiro and Dr Stewart Jackson at Hinchinbrook Health Care.

Stewart Jackson has been a GP in Ingham for 26 years.
 
For almost three decades, he has seen patients come and go, grow up and move away, but he has never seen anything like the doctor shortage facing the town today.
 
Inside his Hinchinbrook Health Care clinic, about 100 kilometres north of Townsville, the consultation rooms often sit empty as the number of GPs willing to work regionally continues to dwindle.
 
In Dr Jackson’s own words, it is a ‘professional wasteland’.
 
‘It’s catastrophically gotten worse,’ he told newsGP. ‘We built a big centre here 20 years ago and now we’ve got eight consult rooms and at times only got two or three people in them.
 
‘We’re in existential crisis … we must have a workforce going forward or there’s no healthcare for all these people.
 
‘We need some changes now, we need some support now, and we need better workforce distribution now.’
 
Hinchinbrook Health Care helps 800 diabetic patients and serves a population with a high percentage of elderly and First Nations people.
 
Dr Jackson, winner of the 2018 RACGP Brian Williams Award for rural medicine, is now pleading for a more equitable distribution of registrars, saying his clinic was not allocated any last year.
 
‘We’re now in the process for allocation for next year and if we go two years in a row with no allocation, what happens?’ he said.
 
‘If we get no allocation again, and then no allocation again, it’s as if we’re not even part of the system, we’re not even part of the network. It’s almost like we’re given up on.’
 
His story will ring true for rural GPs right across the country, as chronic workforce shortages continue to threaten the future of general practice.
 
Despite a recent surge in healthcare workers, it is predicted Australia will still be short 10,600 GPs by 2031, with demand for GP services expected to increase by 58% over 10 years.
 
A recent newsGP investigation revealed at least 184 general practices have closed around Australia in just one year, with not enough new openings to fill the gap.
 
But Dr Jackson said for him, shutting the clinic has never been an option.
 
‘I can’t walk away because I’ve got obligations, I’ve got liabilities because we’re a private business, we rent a large premises, we employ a lot of staff,’ he said.
 
Instead, he is calling for major reforms to help regional practices to stay afloat, and registrar allocation is just one of his ideas.
 
‘When I was a graduate, you were allowed to work in general practice before you joined the training program – you could do locum work,’ Dr Stewart said.
 
‘I think there needs to be flexibility for us to recruit locums, flexibility for more junior doctors who are not in the training program to be able to at least work in general practice so they can get some experience.
 
‘We can still offer a young doctor in our clinic a high income, flexible working conditions, reduced cost of living in our area.’
 
And as today’s general practice workforce battles through rising costs, new taxes, international recruitment, doctor retirement, and burnout, Dr Jackson said the need for change is dire.
 
‘It’s like living in a professional wasteland and this is not what Australia should be,’ he said.
 
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Dr Raju Minhaz Lalani   4/10/2023 4:36:45 AM

Sad but true. Hope this doesn’t fall on deaf ears