WEST Wimmera Health Service says it will be forced to consider finding an alternative doctor provider for Nhill and Kaniva if Tristar Medical Group is unable to fill vacancies promptly.
Chief executive Ritchie Dodds said Dr Debby Chinogara would leave Tristar's practice, based at Nhill hospital, at the end of the month.
"She was going to leave around March when her partner, Dr Paul Moyo, left to work in Melbourne," he said. "Given the lack of doctors and her attachment to the town, she undertook to stay for another six months - so we've been lucky and grateful to have her.
"If Tristar were unable to replace her, that would leave Nhill and Kaniva with two doctors, which would not be satisfactory for us or the community. All options are on the table on how we might go forward from the end of October."
Mr Dodds said the number of GPs servicing Nhill had dropped from four doctors six years ago, to two-and-a-half prior to Dr Chinogara's departure. Of the two doctors that will remain at the Nhill clinic in October, one spends half their time in Kaniva.
"Certainly over that time, Tristar's struggles to source doctors for many of their clinics have become greater. We're getting to the stage now where our hand may be forced," he said.
"(Fewer doctors) would generally translate into lower patient numbers in hospitals, and it puts more pressure on the existing doctors to service more people in the hospital, which extends the waiting time for people in the community to see a doctor."
Stuart Williams is one Nhill resident affected by the shrinking number of doctors. Mr Williams, who moved to the town six years ago, said he needed medical help for mental health and blood pressure issues.
"The phone service to try to book an appointment (at Tristar) is terrible. It took me over two hours to speak to someone last week," he said.
"When I finally got through to book an appointment to see my regular doctor, I was told it was over a week to get an appointment. After raising my concerns, I finally got an appointment in a week's time.
"My appointment was to renew prescriptions, so now I am without medication for both. It is very dangerous to come off tablets so abruptly. This is an extremely risky health issue for me."
The Mail-Times has contacted Dr Chinogara and Tristar's director of clinical services Anne Gardner for comment. In May, Ms Gardner said the organisation had been under significant financial strain for 18 months.
Mr Dodds said the health service had recently secured a new doctor to provide an on-call service for its Rupanyup hospital and nursing home.
"Rahim Medical is taking over that service," he said. "We're still working on them being able to source another doctor who might be able to work in the Rupanyup, Minyip and Murtoa communities as a GP."
The three towns have been without a doctor since a senior GP who worked for Tristar relocated to Melbourne in April.
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