Clermont Multipurpose Health Centre is struggling to find two permanent doctors.
Clermont Multipurpose Health Centre is struggling to find two permanent doctors. Kevin Farmer

Hunt for rural docs: ‘Everyone has a right to healthcare’

TWO doctors are needed in Clermont but an apparent lack of interest in the permanent positions has authorities rethinking their approach.

Mackay Hospital and Health Service is looking into a new operating model after struggling to replace two permanent medical staff at Clermont Multipurpose Health Centre.

In a letter sent to community members and posted on Facebook this month, it was explained that one "senior medical officer" had been reassigned in June 2018 and the other had taken extended leave from December 2018 and then been reassigned from April this year. Since then, the health service had been unable to attract new doctors.

MHHS chief executive Jo Whitehead said the health service had been working hard to attract permanent staff and find a long-term solution.

"In the short term, the Mackay HHS has engaged locum medical officers to provide medical services to both the MPHS and the general practice and will continue to do so," she said. "We are working with recruitment agencies to engage the same locum medical officers where possible, to ensure continuity of care for the residents of Clermont.

"The health service is working closely with private partners to find a solution."

Ms Whitehead said the current model the health service used to attract doctors to regional areas was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit to. "It requires doctors to work in the hospital and privately in general practice," she said.

The letter sent to residents explained this well-established model used in many rural communities in Queensland was supported through the health service at the hospital, but usually through Queensland Health in general practice.

"The Mackay HHS is currently exploring alternative medical models in an attempt to recruit and retain doctors," Ms Whitehall said.

"In the longer term we are exploring creating a special rural generalist training pathway as a solution to medical workforce shortages in rural areas.

"This, however, will take a few years to become viable and sustainable and will require the health service to work closely with the private sector."

Burdekin MP Dale Last said everyone who lived in Queensland deserved to have access to appropriate medical services.

"To their credit the Mackay Hospital and Health Service has worked extremely hard to provide services in Clermont and other rural areas but there are some major challenges that need to be addressed," he said.

"Losing two senior medical officers in quick succession combined with ongoing recruiting difficulties has left the MHHS in a very difficult position; however, I am confident they are doing their best to help because local hospital and health services actually understand the health needs of people in their area."

Mr Last said he would be in contact with the health minister to seek a full explanation and called on support from Queensland Health and the Federal health minister.

"I would like to see the rural generalist pathway put in place to encourage medical students to work in the regional areas, because we need the services and these are communities that welcome professionals, especially medical professionals, with open arms," he said.

"That (pathway) will take time to put in place but we need a short-term solution as well."

A spokesperson for Queensland Health said it understood the need for more and better healthcare services in regional areas.

"We are working to alleviate rural and remote workforce shortages through a range of initiatives including the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway," they said.