LONG WAIT: John Reid is among many Burnett Heads residents keen to see the seaside suburb's GP clinic open.
LONG WAIT: John Reid is among many Burnett Heads residents keen to see the seaside suburb's GP clinic open. Mike Knott BUN100718MEDICAL1

Futile four-year search for doctor for clinic

IF YOU thought a two-week wait for a doctor was long, try four years.

Brett Whalley has been trying to get a doctor to sign on in order to open the Burnett Heads Family Practice since 2014.

Mr Whalley, who has a share in another practice in Brisbane, said the hunt for a qualified GP was one he and wife Emma had been working tirelessly on, but they've been unsuccessful thus far.

"I honestly didn't think it would be this hard to get a doctor," he said.

"I would have been a beautiful set up and perfect hub for Burnett Heads with the pharmacy just there.

"It's all fitted out with computers, phones and equipment ... all we need is a doctor.

"We've made an effort and tried to make it work but unfortunately our hands are tied to some extent."

Mr Whalley said while they didn't know why it was so difficult to attract a doctor to the practice, it wasn't helping that Burnett Heads was not classified under the District of Workforce Shortage.

This classification is where the ratio of doctors to patients falls below the average.

Bundaberg and surrounding areas including Moore Park Beach and Burnett Heads are not included in the DWS.

Areas that fall outside this classification must adhere to much more stringent criteria when recruiting a GP.

In a special report in May last year, the NewsMail reported that an Australian-trained doctor can set up a medical practice here and receive Medicare subsidies, however doctors trained overseas are not eligible and must bill patients privately.

The DWS is reviewed by the Federal Government.

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said he was aware of some concerns about GP numbers and the way in which classification structures worked.

"I have been in touch with various ministers to discuss these concerns," he said.

"The Coalition is committed to responding to the challenge of ensuring Australia has the right mix of health professionals to deliver high quality healthcare to those in need, particularly those in rural and regional areas," he said.

Mr Pitt said the the $550m Rural Health Strategy, announced in the recent budget, would deliver 3000 doctors, more than 3000 nurses and hundreds of allied health professionals to the regions over the next decade.

"This strategy supports all aspects of the doctor training continuum to full specialist qualification.

"Following medical school training, we are investing in a new junior doctor program which will mean that young doctors, after graduation, can stay working in the regions in supported positions.

"For the first time, through the More Doctors for Rural Australia Program, they can access Medicare provider numbers when working in supervised general practice locations to earn a living in the regions."

"There are additional measures to support rural health in this package, including incentives for allied health, pharmacist and nursing positions in rural general practice, continued support to retain GPs through better targeting of rural bulk billing incentives.  

"A new health workforce planning tool will provide us with much better data on the workforce needs of the country and we will continue to support and expand the four crucial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce agencies."

Mr Whalley says the need for health services in Burnett Heads is heightened by a lack of transport and demographics of the coastal community.

"I appreciate the need to have controls for everything you do, but one set system doesn't fit all," he said.

And he's not alone.

Burnett Heads Pharmacy owner Fazel Tim said having a medical practice open was of the "utmost importance" especially as there were so few bus services to the suburb..

"What would be an hour tops to see a doctor can turn into a four to five-hour round trip.

"We also get a lot of overseas visitors through the port (and) they come into the pharmacy looking for a doctor."

Mr Tim said when the practice was initially being built, residents would come into the pharmacy and ask to leave their name and contact details for when the practice opened.

"People were walking in and wanting to join straight away," he said.

"We probably had at least 700 names in that book and we weren't marketing it, it was all word-of-mouth.

"People want the service."

One of those people is Burnett Heads resident John Reid.

"We've been waiting long enough for it to open," Mr Reid said.

"We would use it and I'm sure more of the community would use it too."

But the Whalleys say the practice will not open in the foreseeable future but they were open to discussions with anyone interested in taking it over.

Australia's peak body for doctors says a multi-pronged approach is needed to get and keep doctors working in regions such as Bundaberg.

The Australian Medical Association released its Rural Workforce Initiatives plan earlier this year.

The plan proposes initiatives in education and training, rural generalist pathways, work environments, support for doctors and their families, and financial incentives.

The AMA says the Federal Government must:

  • Encourage students from rural areas to enrol in medical school, and provide medical students with opportunities for positive and continuing exposure to regional and rural medical training;
  • Provide a dedicated and quality training pathway with the right skill mix to ensure doctors are adequately trained to work in rural areas;
  • Provide a rewarding and sustainable work environment with adequate facilities, professional support and education, and flexible work arrangements, including locum relief;
  • Provide family support that includes spousal opportunities and employment, educational opportunities for children's education, subsidies for housing/relocation and/or tax relief; and
  • Provide financial incentives to ensure competitive remuneration.


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