General News

14 July, 2022

GP crisis worsens

NO medical centres will currently take on new patients in the Tablelands area, as the GP crisis deepens with no obvious relief in sight.

By Robyn Holmes

GP crisis worsens
GP crisis worsens

A call to nine general practice medical centres in Atherton, Mareeba, Malanda and Yungaburra last week revealed no one is taking on new patients, but two practices say they will review that position and may take on new patients later this year. 

The situation has been ongoing for months but was exacerbated by the closure of the Louise Street Medical Centre in Atherton on 30 June, and while some people have suggested the Midin Clinic may have been prepared to see non-indigenous patients, this is not the case. 

Residents continue to express their frustration about the situation on Facebook, with a recent post generating multiple comments about people’s failed attempts to find a doctor. 

“It’s pretty ridiculous at the moment, Atherton doctors are not taking new patients, Mareeba Medical and Amaroo not taking new patients, Smithfield central doctors not taking new patients – the Amaroo community clinic at the hospital was an 8-week wait for me to make an appointment for my 2yo, have had to go through ER three times waiting for this appointment because he has ongoing ENT issue that should be sorted by a GP and it’s still two weeks away,” one woman posted.

“All doctors are apparently booked out for six weeks or not taking any new patients? Expected to sit and wait at a hospital for hours with something that’s not an emergency,” another wrote. 

The North Queensland Primary Healthcare Network says it is working with stakeholders to identify possible solutions. 

With no quick fix on the horizon, people are looking to State and Federal members to act. 

Member for Hill Shane Knuth said the lack of doctors, nurses, and specialists in regional areas was an ongoing crisis that needed addressing years ago. 

He said while the State Government had been trumpeting a record expenditure in health, none of that would stop the rapid decline in basic GP and health services in regional Queensland. 

Mr Knuth put a question on notice to the Minister for Health in June and has also raised the issue in Parliament a number of times, calling on the Government to put measures in place to end the health crisis in the Far North. 

“We are seeing local GP clinics shut their doors, specialist appointments and surgeries being cancelled 24 hours before the appointment and long waits at emergency departments,” he said. 

“The current health crisis in the region is ridiculous. Both the State and Federal Government need to step up and provide greater incentives for doctors, nurses, and specialist to come to regional and remotes areas to provide vital health care and services. 

“This should include increased incentives to our own youths studying medicine to return back to regional areas.” 

Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter joined the chorus of discontentment about the issue, saying he had held further discussions with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) and GPs after continued doctor shortages across the region had left clinics unable to process patients and others forced to close down altogether. 

Mr Katter said he had spoken to the ACRRM president and insisted that the approvals process for processing foreign doctors be fast-tracked as a matter of utmost urgency. 

“I have had lengthy discussions, as late as last night, with the most senior people that are being ridiculously restrictive on foreign doctors,” he said. 

“My information is that there are currently no doctors at Julia Creek, Cardwell and Mission Beach, while GPs in Ingham and Innisfail are having quality, Australian- trained, foreign doctors knocked back again and again. 

“There is an appalling anomaly in the conditions and entry for foreign doctors into Australia. And that is a huge issue which needs to be addressed immediately.” 

Mr Katter said the university system was putting out over 200 graduate doctors in the north alone each year and that the government needed to intervene to attract those graduates into the regions. 

“By absolute definition we cannot have a doctor shortage when there are 200 medical graduates a year coming out of the North Queensland university,” he said.

“Now you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that if you want to practice medicine and have an average income of $500k a year, and have your tuition met by the government (we’ve had a breakthrough with HECS), then surely it is not unreasonable that you should spent 18 months in a private practice or a hospital that we designate you will go to. 

“If you don’t want to do that, then you can pay us back half a million dollars and that should be enough to attract someone to the position that you are not prepared to take.”


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