Patients told to hit highway
A SHORTAGE of regional medical specialists is forcing thousands of Wide Bay patients to travel 350km to Brisbane for hospital admissions every year - and a solution could be years away.
Figures provided by the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service, which treats people in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and inland to Eidsvold, show about 7000 patients requiring hospital admission were treated outside of the region last financial year.
That's about 20 per cent of the patients requiring a stint in hospital, a figure that hasn't budged for about a decade.
Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Clare Walker said highly specialised medical care would always have to be done in big city areas, such as treatment for extremely premature babies and brain surgery.
But she said other specialties, such as urology and orthopaedics, which were scarce outside of city hospitals, could just as easily be provided in regional facilities if more medical specialists could be enticed to leave metropolitan areas.
"One of the big issues is getting specialists that want to practise outside the capital or major cities," Dr Walker said. "There's a lot of research in what makes doctors want to work in a regional area as opposed to the city and so it really does go all the way back to medical schools and training.
"The more doctors that train in non-city areas, the more they are likely to go back and work in those areas once they qualify. It's not that we don't have enough doctors … it's just that their distribution is still vastly weighted towards urban areas."
The State Government's Building Queensland Infrastructure Pipeline report this week revealed Bundaberg Hospital was not coping and that almost a fifth of acute inpatient activity was sent away.
State MP David Batt said the city was desperate to see a new hospital, but there was no money in the Budget or forward estimates.
"Just days after the Premier's on-the-run announcement, the Government handed down the 2019/20 Budget and … there wasn't a cent allocated for the progression of our new Bundaberg hospital," he said.
"There is no money in the Government's Forward Estimates, but they've advised in media statements that Bundy will get a new hospital, so I will continue to hold them accountable until that happens."
Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service board chair Peta Jamieson said a new Bundaberg Hospital, announced this year by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and expected to be built by the mid-2020s, would "make a significant difference" towards the district being able to attract more specialists.
She said a detailed business case was expected to be completed by the end of next year.
Ms Jamieson said work was also underway into the establishment of a Central Queensland medical school, which would have a Wide Bay campus, with the first intake of 60 students planned for 2022.
"The reality is we know that 75 per cent of doctors are likely to work within two hours of where they have graduated so we want to grow our own," she said.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said a medical school in the region would also be a "great recruitment tool" for senior doctors, giving them more opportunities for teaching students, supervising junior doctors and research.