Western Victoria doctor shortage: Ararat practice faces uphill recruitment battle

Ararat Medical Centre practice manager Garry Hurst, who is concerned about doctor recruitment. Picture: Paul Carracher
Ararat Medical Centre practice manager Garry Hurst, who is concerned about doctor recruitment. Picture: Paul Carracher

AN ARARAT practice manager has warned the rural city’s hospital will become a nursing home if Ararat cannot attract doctors.

Ararat Medical Centre practice manager Garry Hurst said it was getting harder to recruit general practitioners to the area, and even more difficult to attract procedural GPs such as obstetricians and anesthetists. 

“To keep our hospital delivering babies and offering surgery, we desperately need to recruit these type of GPs to Ararat,” he said.

“Without them in town, our hospital becomes a nursing home, without babies, inpatients or theatre procedures. We cannot afford as a community to let this happen.”

Mr Hurst said the practice had two procedural GP vacancies, which it had been trying to fill for more than two years. 

He said it seemed to be getting more difficult to attract doctors to Ararat – and keep them. 

“We are getting less inquiries than we used to, both locally and internationally,” he said.

“Most GPs we have recruited have moved on to metropolitan areas. Spousal employment and children’s education still seem to be big factors in not attracting GPs to rural areas.

“Government requirements for overseas GPs to spend time in rural areas hasn’t solved the problem for Australia; these GPs often relocate back to metropolitan areas once the requirements have been met.

“Maybe governments should look at higher Medicare rebates for doctors working in rural areas than in metropolitan areas.”

Mr Hurst said the practice was under extreme pressure when it had vacancies it could not fill.

"When we have adequate doctor numbers, patients call in or ring and we can offer an appointment when they need it," he said.

"When we don’t have adequate numbers, patients ring in and it takes considerable time to find a free appointment that they can have with their regular doctor – often in a few weeks – or up to a week with an alternative doctor.

"If they need to be seen, Ararat doesn’t have hospital doctors, so we need to see patients via our duty doctor – who works during office hours – or the on-call doctor, who works after hours.

"This puts pressure on the duty doctor and on-call doctor. After-hours and weekend work remains a big issue for getting doctors to country areas and retaining them.

"We lose up to 30 appointments per day for every doctor we lose. 

“This puts pressure on everyone in the practice as we have to triage patients, potentially turn patients away, and our urgent care during office hours and after hours becomes busier as a result."