DISADVANTAGED: Dr John Bird says local medical practices are faced with higher recruitment and training costs than major cities.
DISADVANTAGED: Dr John Bird says local medical practices are faced with higher recruitment and training costs than major cities. Julia Bartrim

Doctor warns Gladstone health services are in for more grief

DR JOHN Bird has practised medicine in Gladstone since 1980 and he has grim news for the region.

Gladstone people will have to lower their expectations in regards to health care services, he said, adding that residents faced fewer services, less affordable services and higher fees for that service in the future.

"The alternative to that is not to have a service at all," he said.

Dr Bird, one of the directors of Gladstone GP Super Clinic, said regional areas like Gladstone were fighting an unfair battle with major cities to recruit and retain doctors.

One of the biggest problems is the extra costs regional practices incur through no fault of their own.

"It costs about $20,000 to recruit a doctor to Gladstone," Dr Bird said.

"The only doctors that we have been successful in recruiting (here) are doctors who have to come here because they need training - that's another $20,000 on training."

Dr Bird said that in order to attract and retain doctors to regional areas, practices were forced to "maintain a premium relative to doctors in urban areas", another cost they struggle to afford.

"The unfortunate reality is that unless there's greater fee income there won't be doctors," he said.

Four medical practices have gone under in the Gladstone region in the past few years.

Although one of these, Calliope Medical Centre, has reopened, it has to date, been unable to secure any doctors.

Dr Bird said another problem was that there was no cap on doctors in any given area.

"Imagine if we funded an education system on the basis of the number of teachers in a school (as opposed to the number of students)," he said.

"That's exactly what we're doing with doctors.

"If you go out to Calliope which has 5000 people, that should equate to five doctors ... conversely there is five doctors' incomes injected into Brisbane in areas of oversupply."

Dr Bird said the problem was not greedy doctors but the system itself, which was "broken" and needed to be "fundamentally reformed".

Assistant practice manager at Gladstone Medical Centre and Harbour Family Practice Stephen Oriel agreed the government had to step in.

"It's the government that needs to follow up on the number of doctors in a population group," he said.

"We are constantly trying to sort something, we are definitely wanting to sort this out and we want to look after our patients in the best way we can."