HEALTH CRISIS: General practice manager warns the region may not be able to attract new doctors under federal government change.
HEALTH CRISIS: General practice manager warns the region may not be able to attract new doctors under federal government change. Contributed

Gladstone region headed for a 'health crisis'

GLADSTONE could be headed for a "health crisis” because general practices will struggle to hire doctors under a new area classification.

Until July 1, Gladstone was classified as a District of Workforce Shortage, which meant practices could hire overseas-trained general practitioners.

A recent change to that classification means Gladstone is no longer considered to have a shortage and practices must hire Australian doctors who have passed their Australian GP exam or doctors who have worked in Australia for 10 years.

BITS Medical Centre practice manager Nicole Dickhaut said they had not received an application from an Australian-trained GP since they opened in 2008.

"Other practice managers can tell you the same story,” Ms Dickhaut said.

"This is why the Gladstone practices mostly rely on overseas-trained doctors. We are headed for a health crisis in Gladstone.

"The population is increasing while the number of full-time GPs is going to decrease. That's the crisis, more people and even fewer doctors

"We've had desperate people coming in saying 'can you please see me I'm very unwell' and our staff have to say no all day long.

"That's going to be worse.”

A Department of Health spokesman said gender and age demographics and socio-economic status of patients were taken into account when the classification for Gladstone was changed.

"Gladstone has been classified as a non-DPA (Distribution Priority Area) for GPs as the GP catchment it is located in has been assessed as receiving adequate GP services for the needs of the population,” he said.

He said monetary incentives offered to Gladstone doctors would assist the region's general practices in recruitment drives.

"Under the General Practice Rural Incentive Program, eligible doctors working in the Gladstone region are eligible for incentives of up to $12,000 per annum, depending on location and how long the doctor has been working in rural and remote areas.”

Ms Dickhaut said incentive was not enough to cover the cost of relocation and did not reach $12,000 until 10 years of practice.

"It's a nice incentive for people who have been here long enough but it's not going to get them to change their whole household to Central Queensland,” she said.

The Royal Australian College of Practitioners recommends an average ratio of one doctor to 1000 patients. Gladstone has 40 doctors servicing 60,000 - 20 doctors short.

Gladstone Regional Councillor Kahn Goodluck said the data used was not reflective of Gladstone's current status.

"The census data on which this decision was calculated came from a time in 2016 when the Gladstone region was still affected by a construction boom which was winding down and subsequently our economy has experienced significant downturn,” Cr Goodluck said.

At a council meeting yesterday Cr Goodluck successfully put an urgent motion calling for the council to lobby the Federal Government to reconsider the change.

The council will approach the Australian Medical Association to lobby on its behalf.

"This decision will have a disastrous result for GP services on our community,'' Cr Goodluck said.

"Our GPs are already unable to keep up with the workload with legislative framework that seems forever stacked against successful outcomes in health in regional centres.”

The Department of Health will consider inquiries received through from areas previously identified as DWS to determine options for hiring restricted doctors.