Gunnedah mayor calls for investigation into shortage of GPs at $ 7 million health center

Gunnedah in northeast New South Wales has long suffered from a chronic shortage of doctors, but the community hoped a multi-million dollar rural health center built nine years ago would change that .

In the years that followed, the centre’s management repeatedly failed to retain physicians for practice.

Then, in August 2020, the lease for the establishment was awarded to the local health district – on condition that it secures general practitioners for the center. This is not the case.

Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey said it wasn’t good enough and the community deserved better from the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD).

Cr Chaffey has written to state and federal health ministers and urged them to initiate an investigation into the shortfall.

Federal Parkes member Mark Coulton initially backed the HNELHD to run the facility, but now says its failure to attract doctors has been disappointing.

“Hunter New England Health is a very large organization, one of the reasons I supported them was that I would have thought they would have a chance to put GPs there pretty quickly – but it didn’t. was not, “he said. .

Mr Coulton supported Cr Chaffey’s call for an investigation and said he could not understand why the LHD did not comply with the provision.

“Everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel”

The town’s rural health center was seen as a panacea to the doctor shortage, and the community supported its construction.

The federal government gave $ 4.3 million to the project, and residents raised the remaining $ 2.4 million through cake stalls and generous donations.

Cr Chaffey outside the rural health center that Gunnedah residents have raised millions of dollars to build.(

ABC New England: Lani Oataway

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“Everyone took responsibility for doing something for the fundraising,” said Cr Chaffey.

“They have reached the amount of money needed to build this facility through hard work, putting their shoulder to the wheel.

“Now Hunter New England Health has that facility, and it’s their responsibility to make sure they provide this service.”

Gunnedah resident Kylie Walton said it was devastating to see the “state of the art” center empty.

“It’s a huge space, it’s beautiful and brand new… the waiting room is huge, so it’s made to accommodate so many people and so many doctors and so many specialists, and it’s just used for stuff. ordinary, “she said.

a woman with short brown hair is holding a baby
Gunnedah’s mother, Kylie Walton, had a high-risk pregnancy but couldn’t find a local doctor available to see her.(

ABC New England: Lani Oataway

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Travel hours for residents for general practitioners

Ms Walton is one of the many townspeople who travel hours to see a doctor. She has a family of five and doesn’t drive, which means her partner has to take a day off or take the train an hour south to Quirindi.

She said it had been impossible to find a local doctor, despite a difficult pregnancy, heart problems and diabetes.

“I was a very high risk pregnancy, I was hospitalized several times for preterm labor and my blood sugar was going up and down. I had dangerous drops where I could have passed out and gone into a diabetic coma. any time, ”she said.

Two young boys playing with toys in their living room
If Elijah Walton and his brother Jacob get sick, they will have to travel for hours to see a doctor.(

ABC New England: Lani Oataway

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Ms Walton said she did not blame Gunnedah’s doctors for her predicament as they had been very sympathetic to her situation, but their books were full.

His son Elijah, now one year old, cannot see a doctor in the community in which he is growing up.

Gunnedah’s doctors under pressure

Dr Jon McKeon served Gunnedah in general practice for 14 years and retired last year for his own well-being. He said the city’s shortage of doctors was a key factor in that decision.

“I had my own mental health issues and they peaked, and as I started to get better, I decided that I had better not come back,” he said.

Dr McKeon said what was happening in Gunnedah was symptomatic of a bigger problem and it was difficult to find a solution to change the trend of GP shortages in rural centers.

“I think in addition to a lot of carrots to entice doctors to come and work in the country, maybe it’s time to reconsider whether geographic vendor numbers are a good way forward,” he said. .

an aerial view of a city surrounded by green paddocks
Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey has written to state and federal ministers demanding an investigation into the city’s lack of doctors.(

ABC New England: Lani Oataway

)

“As a doctor, you need to have a provider number to qualify for Medicare… but right now the doctor decides where he will settle and where he will work for the rest of his life. .

“And unfortunately that usually involves being 10 kilometers or less from the ocean or in a capital city.

Dr McKeon acknowledged that this was not a desirable option, but has so far said other incentives have not worked.

Services “far away” from expectations

Hunter New England Health said in a statement that it “remains committed” to providing more general medicine services in Gunnedah, and is currently in active discussions with two interested parties.

The health district has so far had a private surgeon who works in the center once a month, and two skin cancer specialists who work once a quarter.

But Cr Chaffey says it wasn’t good enough.

Federal Regional Health Minister David Gillespie said he appreciated the mayor’s frustrations.

“The Australian government expects the HNELHD to tap into its vast resources to ensure it delivers on its commitment to the local community,” said Dr Gillespie.

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