Door is open for more doctors in Gladstone

A SHORTAGE of doctors in the Gladstone region could eventually be a thing of the past.

The Federal Government has declared the region to be a District of Workplace Shortage, which will provide more opportunities for GPs to practice here.

However, according to Gladstone GP Superclinic principal Dr John Bird, the declaration could be a double-edged sword.

"We need more doctors here. There's nothing more certain than that," he said.

"However, the declaration of a DWS opens the door for overseas-trained doctors, but not so much for Australian-trained doctors."

That's because the Medicare system provides lesser rebates to qualified Australian-trained doctors, unless the doctor is in a supervised training position.

But there are few training places available in Gladstone and similar towns for Australian-trained graduates.

Dr Bird said he knew of at least two qualified doctors in Gladstone who would like to train as specialist GPs and work in general practice, but they couldn't because of the shortcomings of the Medicare system.

"If an overseas-trained doctor comes to Gladstone, his patients will be entitled to the full $37 rebate from Medicare.

"However, with the Australian-trained doctors, the patient's rebate may be just $21," he said.

"Under the changes which are due to take effect on July 1, the $21 reduces to $16, making the position even more untenable.

"Patients will not be prepared to pay that much extra themselves to see a doctor and they are likely to head to the hospital's emergency department, and then the cost of treating that patient becomes a total cost to the state government."

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health said no Australian doctor would be disadvantaged by an area being DWS or not.

"However, there is a competitive process that is open to all doctors wanting to become GPs each year, 1500 places are available, and 50% of these are in regional and rural areas like Gladstone," she said.

"If these two doctors missed out on training places, this is likely to be because they didn't meet the standards required by the RACGP and ACRRM, not because they are being displaced by overseas-trained doctors."