‘We need to reopen the area’: GP takes concerns to Canberra
Empty medical rooms are exposing Gladstone's doctor shortage which experts warn will worsen under new federal policy.
Two years after closing, the Gladstone Valley Medical Centre has not attracted a new tenant despite being a fully fitted-out clinic.
Dr John Bird has also not been able to fill a lease at his GP Superclinic a year after the departure of CQ Radiology.
The situation is so dire it prompted Boyne Island's Dr Gaston Boulanger to fly to Canberra for an urgent one-hour meeting with Regional Services minister Mark Coulton on Tuesday.
Dr Boulanger urged the Federal Government to renominate Gladstone as a priority area which would enable the recruitment of overseas doctors.
Gladstone was closed as a Distribution Priority Area in July, effectively preventing centres from hiring overseas doctors.
Dr Boulanger said his discussion with the minister included the difficulties recruiting Australian-trained GPs, changed demographics and the economic downturn, under-resourcing of the Gladstone Hospital and the mental health crisis.
"Mark Coulton was very interested and asked many questions," Dr Boulanger said.
"He now understands the urgency of the problems and the special position Gladstone has.
"He promised to discuss Gladstone with Health Minister Greg Hunt to find a solution."
Dr Boulanger said Gladstone was short 20 doctors and it would only get worse as medical practitioners resigned or retired.
"In the near future we expect four doctors to stop working," he said.
"Therefore the DPA needs to be lifted now."
Dr Boulanger said it was almost "impossible" to find a doctor within Australia willing to move to Gladstone and transferring was too time-consuming.
"It's so complicated I almost can't explain it to you," he said.
"We need to reopen the area (as a DPA) so we can recruit from overseas."
Dr Bird said the new method of classifying DPAs based on gender, age and socio-economic status of patients from the 2016 census had unfairly disadvantaged Gladstone.
He said a trend of older residents leaving for towns like Bundaberg and Rockhampton had lowered Gladstone's age demographics and therefore impacted its priority status for health services.
However, one of the reasons people were moving away was to access the better health services of those towns, he said.
"We continue to lose the demographics that support health services coming to Gladstone," Dr Bird said.
"Without health services, it is difficult to attract people to Gladstone for future development.
"It is the presence of a health services sector which supports people coming town."
Both doctors said the under-resourced Gladstone Hospital, which does not have an intensive care unit and outsources many treatments to Rockhampton, added to the town's health woes.
The sale of the Mater Hospital added a third layer to the problem.
Dr Boulanger is also seeking a meeting with State Health minster Stephen Miles through Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher.