A Eurobodalla GP has taken the fight for more rural doctors to Canberra, telling a Senate committee “a morass of red tape” was preventing him recruiting desperately needed colleagues from overseas.
Veteran Batemans Bay GP Dr David Rivett gave evidence last month to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee hearing into the supply of rural health services and medical professionals.
The Batemans Bay Hospital VMO, who chairs the Australian Medical Association’s rural medical committee, said his own practice needed doctors.
“Since I graduated I have practised in Batemans Bay,” he told the committee.
“The population has grown from about 1700 to 17,000 and we now have five nursing homes. We are not pulling in new doctors, so people at the end of their working lives, like me, are being forced to work harder and harder, which is just not tenable.
“I have been advertising for six months now for doctors and spent about $4000 on advertising and the only applicants who have been interested are people from Iran, India and others outside the country.”
Several doctors have spoken out in recent months about the acute shortage of GPs in Batemans Bay, with patients waiting weeks for appointments.
Yet Dr Rivett said securing “area-of-need” status to fast-track the appointment of an overseas doctor was not easy.
“I am three doctors down in my practice,” he said.
“I am trying to go through an ‘area-of-need’ process, which I can assure you is an absolute morass of red tape. I have been told I can apply for one doctor at most. You cannot get three ‘area of need’ positions, even though I need three people desperately.”
Dr Rivett said older doctors were under increasing pressure to delay retirement.
“All the doctors in my practice are over 60 and hanging on, wanting to get out and just slow down. But they feel they cannot do that, because they want to provide a community service.”
Dr Rivett said action was needed now to attract young doctors.
“It is a real crisis and it is getting worse, because the
people with the experience … like me, are over 60 now. They are not going to be around for much longer. We need to get younger doctors into the loop now, while the older guys are still there to show them around. It has got to happen in a hurry, not in 10 years’ time. It will be all over then.”
Dr Rivett said young people needed incentives to work in rural areas and should not be coerced or expected to work unsustainable hours.
“The old days of dinosaurs like me trying to do everything at once and working crazy hours are long gone,” he said.
“If we look back to that old model and say that it is going to happen again, we are losing the plot altogether.
“We have to get robust systems in place to attract more doctors to go rural. We are not seeing incentives to get them there.
“I do not know how many meetings I have been to about planning for rural health, and everybody listens and takes the attitude that it is all too hard, let’s just sweep it under the table and admit we can’t win. I think you have to have a damn good go.
“I am very enthused that there is a Senate committee actually looking at this and hopefully going to bring forward some robust solutions.”
The alternative was “more and more people getting flown out expensively”, Dr Rivett warned.
“We have a helicopter just about every day now, sometimes several times a day.”