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31 May, 2022

Poll reveals depth of doctor crisis

A POLL conducted by Atherton Chamber of Commerce last week has revealed that more than 265 people have to wait for more than three weeks to see a doctor and 168 people say they have no access to a GP because practices will not take on new patients.

By Robyn Holmes

The results of the poll will be presented at a meeting this Wednesday between the chamber and the North Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) which has engaged the services of expert health planning consultants to develop a workforce strategy and model of care for the region. 

Access to a GP has been made worse by the imminent closure of a family medical centre in Atherton due to the practice’s longserving doctor going into retirement, with patients now scrambling to find a new GP. 

Meanwhile, hospital emergency departments are under pressure from people who cannot access a GP and can’t wait for 2-3 weeks to see a GP, with 269 respondents to survey indicating they are facing that situation. 

Atherton Chamber president Bree Hargreaves conducted the poll on the Tablelands Unite Facebook page to gather information to inform the discussion with NQPHN. 

“Accessing healthcare on the Tablelands has been an issue for a long time and has only been made worse recently with not only Covid-19, but an ageing medical workforce and the increase in our population,” Ms Hargreaves said. 

“We have amazing doctors on the Tablelands that are doing everything they can with the resources that they currently have access to. 

“If only the solution was as simple as hiring a few more doctors, but it is more complex than that. 

Consideration must be given to affordable housing, our ageing population, transport, medical facilities, bulk billing and, of course, attracting new healthcare staff to our region.” 

NQPHN chief executive officer Robin Whyte confirmed the organisation was undertaking a review of the challenges involved to access primary health care in the Tablelands local government area. 

“Conducted by external workforce experts, the review will include an assessment of GP availability and bulk billing services,” she said. 

“The review will also inform the development of workforce strategy and model of care which is tailored to local community needs. 

As part of the review, NQPHN will be meeting with a range of stakeholders, including key service providers, over the coming weeks to gain their views on the challenges and possible solutions at a local level. 

“We look forward to working with our stakeholders to assist Tablelands residents to receive quality healthcare, when and where they need it,” Ms Whyte said. 

Respondents to the Tablelands FB survey left a barrage of comments describing their experiences, frustration and concern about the current situation which is also being felt in large urban centres like Cairns. 

“Families that offer businesses and services, their children attending schools in the Atherton area will be forced to leave if they can’t access basic medical services,” Sharon Weller said. 

“Offer doctors incentives to want to establish a business or work in the area.

 There are enough vacant commercial premises to offer them something! 

“It’s ridiculous that we can’t find a doctor except to drive a four-hour round trip to Cairns with a sick child or adult – this would be the main reason we would consider leaving the area.” 

Some respondents described the GP crisis as “crazy” and want the government to step up to provide appropriate access to doctors. 

“The hospital just has not the capacity to take on a whole community that cannot access a doctor for things like immediate care such as antibiotics for chest infections etc – if you need antibiotics you need them practically on that day, one just can't wait three weeks or wait till they have double pneumonia and call an ambulance,” Ianthe Lycos commented. 

“This is crazy – it's like we are becoming a third world country. 

Australia needs a National Health Scheme like the UK. If a private medical centre has to close down, then it's the responsibility of the government to provide a public medical centre to replace that loss. 

“It's the government’s responsibility to provide appropriate health care for its citizens and this is one good reason why I voted for Labor (at the Federal election) because if health care becomes a neo-liberal privatised business enterprise, Australia is doomed to become a place where only the wealthy are healthy.”


WHAT THEY SAID.....

  • “Had wonderful care for the last few decades unfortunately now they are closing the clinic, I now have no access to a doctor”. 
  • “I am stuck as my doctor has retired. I’m on a disability pension and unsure of what happens next.” 
  • “I've got a GP but my children don't. The GP won't take ‘new patients’ so I have to take them to the hospital if there's ever a problem and that's a lot more often then I need to see someone.” 
  • “Yes, I have a doctor, although navigating an appointment with my particular doctor can be difficult, and the timeframe waiting for that appointment can be months away.” 
  • “I haven’t seen a GP for 3.5 years since we moved here. I was able to get my husband into Malanda medical a couple of months ago because his needs are quite urgent.” 
  • “A family medical centre dropped me from their books when l was absent for two years. As l had two of my doctors retire within 15 years and they would not accept me back into their fold when l had two full hip replacements. Now I have to travel to Cairns if l’m sick.” 
  • “On the books at a clinic but because no one was sick for a year or so they were super rude when I rang for an appointment then refused to book one with the doctor I normally see. I waited 4 weeks for an appointment with a fill-in doctor.” 
  • “I had to argue with my GP to get her to see my daughter. We have been here three years and it was the first time she had needed to be seen by a GP.” 
  • “I'm not sure if this poll will correctly reflect how dire the situation is ... we moved here over a year ago and even after I fell down stairs and hurt myself badly (but not bad enough to be emergency and call an ambulance) I was still turned away from every GP. I see posts daily from new families moving here not just on this page but others looking for a GP only to be told there is none, and like us even people who have been here 2 years, 3years, 5years, more? Have not been able to get "on the books" of a local GP.” 
  • “After being part of the Alice Street clinic for 30 years, I was dropped, now travel 2.5 hours each way to Cairns for a doctor.”



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