THE Wimmera’s doctor shortage is again in the national spotlight after a meeting in Canberra involving health representatives from the region.
Horsham’s Lister House Medical Clinic’s Amanda Wilson met with Member for Mallee Andrew Broad and other government leaders on Tuesday to speak about the struggles the region faces to attract and retain doctors.
Lister House has been operating with reduced staff since several doctors left for various reasons early last year.
“The visit was part of a forum that Andrew set up, which brings people of the Wimmera and Mallee to Canberra to meet with stakeholders pertaining to their industries,” Mrs Wilson said.
“Andrew set up a meeting for me specifically with the Rural Health Minister’s office to talk about where we’re at, what our expectations are, and what they are working on.
“This issue is definitely a focus for them.
“Andrew also got Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to come past and have a chat.”
Mr Broad was elevated to the role of Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister in last month’s cabinet reshuffle.
Mrs Wilson said it was incredibly important that people not in government had a chance to meet with policy-makers.
“The opportunity Andrew allows us for that is amazing – we wouldn't find it as easy without him setting things up,” she said.
Mrs Wilson said Lister House had welcomed three new doctors in the past couple of months, and had others in the pipeline.
“It's a matter of red tape and other things. It’s not as easy as we'd like it to be, but the prospects are looking good at this stage,” she said.
Mr Broad said the government had “a list as long as his arm” of measures it was taking to attract more doctors to live and work in regional and rural Australia.
“We can't conscript people and we can't make doctors out of thin air,” he said.
“It's a case of training more doctors who are more likely to live and work in regional and rural Australia, having placements for them when they're graduates, offering good incentives and support for both them and their family, and continuing to explain to them why regional Australia is a great place to live and work.
“Being in a ministry position certainly gives me more sway to keep this issue front and centre, and that's what I'll continue to do.”
Mr McCormack said the Murray-Darling Rural Medical School Network was one of his party’s top achievements for the Wimmera and Mallee this year.
He said the network, announced in May, came about after many years of advocacy.
He said it would mean more doctors trained in regional areas, which would in turn increase the number of doctors who then stayed in these areas for their careers.
“Having a dedicated medical school will not only deliver improvements for the specific regions involved but the wider network will mean improved health services in rural and regional NSW and Victoria,” he said.
“Evidence shows newly-graduated doctors are most likely to choose to live and work in rurally if they and/or their life partner have a rural origin, and also if they have spent a considerable amount of their training time in regional and rural areas.”