THE Victorian Coalition has announced it will develop a $1 million rural health workforce strategy to tackle ongoing doctor shortages in regional Victoria if elected in November.
Member for Ripon Louise Staley said the strategy would address the ongoing rural doctor shortage at all levels.
“A rural health workforce strategy will improve local access to the high-quality, adequately-resourced health services we deserve by making sure we have the skills we need, where we need them.
“Waiting times can be up to four weeks to get a simple script repeat, resulting in people missing medication or travelling long distances to see a doctor who’s unfamiliar with their history,” she said.
The strategy will identify the types and number of health professionals needed, create incentives for health professionals to move to areas with high levels of need, and work towards ensuring diversity in health staff to meet varying cultural needs.
Ararat Medical Centre practice manager Garry Hurst said the impacts of the doctor shortage continue to be felt locally, with patients sometimes having to wait two or three weeks for an appointment.
“We're short currently by four doctors. We’ve got 10 and we’re about to go back to nine – we’d like to have 14 full-time doctors.
“We are struggling to see patients on the day (of the booking) and maintain services to our patients in the hospital and emergency services,” he said.
Mr Hurst said that the biggest barriers in recruiting permanent medical staff to the area are finding suitable situations for their families.
“For most doctors moving to the country, I think education for their children and employment for their spouses are the two biggest issues,” he said.
“It’s a pressing issue for us and we certainly in the short term ask for our patients in the community to be patient, and be reassured that we’re trying to recruit (doctors), like every other small town in Australia,” he said.
The Victorian Healthcare Association has thrown its support behind the announcement and said it has been calling for a “single comprehensive state-wide human resources strategy for health” for some time.
“The VHA … applauds the Liberal Nationals announcement this week that, if elected, it would immediately convene a taskforce to develop such a strategy in consultation with key stakeholders to tackle this workforce crisis head on,” VHA chief executive officer Tom Symondson said.
“While Victorians can be confident in the quality of care they receive, the health sector faces significant challenges: an ageing and growing population and workforce, increasing prevalence and complexity of chronic disease and increasing community expectations.
“Ensuring the availability and right distribution of the health workforce is paramount if we are to ensure equity of access and outcomes for Victorians.”
According to Rural Workforce Agency Victoria, there are currently 140 GP vacancies across the state, with 44 of those existing in western Victoria, compared with one vacancy in metropolitan Melbourne.