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RACGP tours WA to discuss doctor shortage


Michelle Wisbey


31/07/2023 9:41:44 AM

Boosting access to remote medical treatment was the top priority of an RACGP leaders tour of Western Australia.

Group of doctors standing next to sign
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins met with fellow members of the College on a tour of Western Australia.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins has embarked on a journey through the west in a bid to improve the state’s rural healthcare woes.
 
On Thursday, alongside Vice President Dr Bruce Willett and WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman, Dr Higgins met with members at Panaceum Medical, Bluff Point Medical, and the Rural Clinical School in Geraldton, five hours north of Perth.

Throughout the tour, local voices raised their concerns about rural healthcare, improving access for patients, and how to best attract medical professionals to the regions.
 
A lack of GPs, and therefore healthcare, in remote areas continues to be a strain across Australia, with newsGP figures showing doctors are moving back to cities in droves.
 
Dr Raman told newsGP this was of critical concern to regional communities, labelling the visit ‘absolutely invaluable’ in beginning to understand their plight.
 
‘We had the opportunity to meet not only the GPs there, but also the GP registrars and medical students and get a real understanding about the pain points that Geraldton has,’ she said.
 
‘Distance is a huge factor in healthcare access and GPs play a huge role in the community.
 
‘The College is not just for the metro areas and the members who are in cities, everyone is important, particularly in rural and remote Australia for our patients, as well as our GPs.’

After hearing from local doctors, Dr Raman said three years of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes across the general practice workforce, which are expected to be felt for years to come.
 
‘There is a level of isolation that many practitioners, medical students, as well as nursing and allied health staff and other colleagues are feeling. There’s a sense of burnout,’ she said.
 
On Friday, the group visited the Derbarl Yerrigan Aboriginal Health Service in Perth, which provides culturally safe primary care, mental health and dental services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families living in the city.
 
The tour met with staff at the service, including RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medical Educator Kim Isaacs, and 2022 RACGP WA GP in Training of the Year Award winner Daniel Hunt, to discuss how best to care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.
 
‘Many of us, including myself, have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and we need to be understanding and respectful of the cultural aspects, as well as being able to manage some of the health conditions in a culturally sensitive manner,’ Dr Raman said.
 
The four-day visit also included several member meetups, and is due to end on Saturday with a ‘Keeping the spark alive’ conference, where Dr Higgins will speak to early career GPs about staying passionate about general practice.
 
Dr Raman said she came away from the week’s meetings feeling optimistic for the future of healthcare in Western Australia, especially impressed with and hopeful for the newest members of the medical profession.
 
‘They are our workforce, our next generation of doctors coming through, and I think there is a great interest for some of these medical students to become rural GPs in WA,’ she said.
 
‘Reaching out to them and showing support does go a long way and it’s been an overwhelmingly positive response.’
 
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