Community & Business

18 May, 2022

Community angst as GP set to close

AN Atherton medical centre will close at the end of next month, leaving patients worried about how they will find another doctor when no other practices in the town are taking on new patients.

By Robyn Holmes

Community angst as GP set to close - feature photo

AN Atherton medical centre will close at the end of next month, leaving patients worried about how they will find another doctor when no other practices in the town are taking on new patients. 

The Atherton Family Medical Centre in Louise Street will close on 30 June as a result of Dr Michael Ruscoe’s decision to retire and the news has sent shock waves through the community as hundreds of patients try to find another doctor. Patients were advised to try the two other medical centres in Atherton but neither is taking on new patients, with one saying they had received around 200 calls last week from people trying to secure another GP. 

Advice to callers was to try Malanda or Yungaburra, but only one in Malanda is taking on new patients, with at least a two-week wait until an appointment is available. It is understood that doctors in Atherton were to gather at the end of last week to discuss what could be done to alleviate the shortage. 

Queensland Health is also “deeply concerned” about the closure, particularly the impact it will have on the hospital. “Without GPs, patients with nonurgent needs are being funneled towards emergency care, placing unnecessary strain upon our resources which are already under pressure due to the demands of the Covid pandemic,” Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service executive director rural and remote services Tracey Morgan said. “We will continue to monitor the numbers of people presenting to our emergency departments for any potential impacts on our resourcing.” 

The news of the centre’s closure was posted on Facebook last week by Gayle Samuel, who was desperately trying to find her friend a new doctor. 

“I have a few friends that are patients there and I previously rang around for an elderly friend, couldn't get her in anywhere from Atherton, Yungaburra, Malanda, Herberton or Mareeba,” she wrote. 

The post triggered a torrent of comments from locals, concerned about the loss of a medical centre when getting an appointment with another doctor was near to impossible. “More strain on the other facilities and hospital. Come on government, you are failing small country towns,” Bec Howell wrote. 

“We moved from Cairns to the Tablelands 16 years ago and couldn’t get into local doctors so stayed with our doc in Cairns which required a very long drive there and back for appointments. He retired three years ago and we were lucky to get into The Doctor House. “Unfortunately now it can take 2-3 weeks to get an appointment and my husband’s doctor there left. Ridiculous.” “Always good to find out important information through social media. The decent thing to do would have been to inform current patients. No one is taking new patients and now a full clinic of patients will have to either go to the hospital or go without,” Janelle Harriman- Moses said. 

Many people attribute the doctor shortage across Australia to the Medicare rebate which has failed to keep up with the costs of providing services, while others say the impacts of Covid are to blame which had prevented overseas doctors from coming to Australia. 

“Unfortunately the government hasn’t increased the Medicare levy paid to the doctors for more than a decade. That is why they can’t bulk bill continuously,” Lynette Morris claimed. 

“The increase in wages and insurance has increased immensely in this time. Don’t get cross at the GPs, get angry at the government. There are many surgeries across Australia that are closing due to increased costs. Let’s hope we don’t end up like American health care. “What we really need here as well is a 24-hour medical centre that is bulk billed so we don’t have to sit at the hospital for hours and hours when our kids or us are hurt or sick.” 

The Express sent questions to the Atherton Family Medical Centre but they declined to comment.


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