WEST Wimmera residents are having to travel outside their home towns for routine medical appointments and scripts because multiple towns in the area are without doctors.
West Wimmera Health Service acting chief executive Ritchie Dodds said there were general practitioner vacancies at sites in Kaniva, Goroke, Rainbow and Jeparit.
He said Kaniva and Goroke had not had doctors on site since September.
“Rainbow and Jeparit have had access to a doctor in the medical clinic, but there has been no doctor with the capacity to admit and continue to manage the care of acute patients since early October,” he said.
“We understand there is now no doctor at all until at least late February.
“Nhill has been functioning with just two doctors available, with only one of these having admitting rights.”
Mr Dodds said attracting doctors was difficult, as was recruiting allied health staff such as physiotherapists, podiatrists and occupational therapists.
He said career development, lifestyle factors and partner preferences made it challenging to attract professionals to rural and regional areas difficult, but there were also other factors.
“The current Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency guidelines restrict us from employing new GPs that require supervision,” he said.
“The guidelines state supervisors must have a general registration and/or fellowship, and that they must have held this for three years. We only have one GP who meets this criteria, and should we employ a level one general practitioner, they would be required to have the supervisor on site with them at all times.
“This becomes difficult when we need to split our GPs across nine sites.
“In addition to this, Rural Workforce Agency Victoria have recently amended their guidelines relating to GPs who have a permanent residency or citizenship and are wanting to enrol in the Rural Locum Relief Program.
“The agency will no longer approve GPs for the program if they are going to be working in solo clinics, or if there is no fellowship doctor onsite. This even effects general registration doctors wanting to work in the area.”
Mr Dodds said understaffing not only meant people had to travel for doctor services and scripts, but also that patients could not receive acute care in their closest hospital in some cases.
“For many of our older customers, this means arranging for a friend or family member to drive them to neighbouring towns,” he said.
“It might also eventually lead to mismanagement of chronic disease if it becomes too difficult for people to travel to see a GP.”
Mr Dodds said West Wimmera Health Service supported Tristar Medical Group to recruit doctors, as the group operates most of the GP clinics in the health service’s area.
“We also offer scholarships to help attract allied health and nursing students where we pay some of their study costs in return for them committing to work with us for a specified period of time,” he said.
“I think governments are well aware of the issues and are working on solutions, but it’s not a quick fix.
“Financial incentives obviously help but we’re finding it’s becoming more and more about work-life balance.”