More doctors needed but govt insists Curtis Is comes first

DOCTORS in Gladstone are increasingly frustrated that the government won't post out more GPs to town, with the Federal Government insisting they be sent to Curtis Island first.

Long a bugbear for local doctors, they have been told the government can not provide any more doctors because Gladstone has not been designated an area with a shortage of doctors who can bill Medicare for their services.

To many doctors in the area, including Gladstone GP Super Clinic director Dr John Bird, this assessment falls well short of the mark.

"What they've said to Gladstonians is that there are enough doctors in Gladstone at present," he said.

"I think it's manifestly obvious that there aren't."

He says that at peak, the super clinic has to turn away 50-60 patients a day while taking 600 phone calls a day from people seeking medical advice.

However, this has not been deemed enough of a reason for the Federal Government to make Gladstone a shortage area.

I certainly don't think there is too much difficulty in getting to Gladstone from Curtis, but there is difficulty in getting to Curtis from Gladstone.

The reason local doctors have been given by the government, is that more doctors are needed on Curtis Island.

"They're saying that if you want to get doctors into town, you need to put them on Curtis Island," Dr Bird said.

The Federal Health Department said Gladstone was not considered to be in an area where there was a shortage, while Curtis Island was.

However, Dr Bird said access to Gladstone from Curtis Island was relatively easy, but not the other way around.

In fact, he said, the super clinic already saw people from the island on a regular basis.

"Certainly the number of workers on Curtis Island is exacerbating the problem in terms of demand," he said.

"You tell that to the government, but they just don't get that the workers on Curtis are not a permanent population, and that they travel to and from Gladstone all the time.

"I certainly don't think there is too much difficulty in getting to Gladstone from Curtis, but there is difficulty in getting to Curtis from Gladstone."

The Health Department reviews the workforce shortage status of a particular region every quarter.

Shortages defined by census

THE reason why Gladstone can not access more doctors is down to a Federal Government scheme known as the District of Workforce Shortage program.

The DWS system is meant to outline areas of Australia, split into statistical local areas, where the level of healthcare available is negligible, weighed against the number of people who live in that area. 

Dr John Bird.
Dr John Bird. Brenda Strong

In the case of Gladstone, it has been deemed there is a shortage of specialists, but not GPs.

"That situation means that we often have to cover for the work of specialists, adding to the problem of the shortage of

GPs which the government has deemed not to be a particular concern," Gladstone GP Super Clinic director Dr John Bird said.

However, it appears that the government uses population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to calculate shortages.

The ABS stats are from census data, which record where a person may be on a particular night. Doctors fear the data may not take into account that workers on Curtis Island are largely fly-in, fly-out.

In response to questions from The Observer, a Federal Health Department spokesman said it was "aware that people may travel to Gladstone to obtain medical services".

If an area is determined to have a shortage, it means practices in the area can apply to have doctors who have been trained overseas sent there for a period of time.

This opens up a whole new recruiting pool for clinics in the particular region.

"It would be fantastic if we could get those doctors in (to Gladstone)," Dr Bird said. "It would help alleviate some of the pressure we have, especially in peak periods."

Topics:  curtis island doctors doctor shortage federal government john bird medicare

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