DOCTOR SHORTAGE IN ARARAT
In recent weeks it has been very apparent that we do not have enough doctors in Ararat to service the needs of the community.
People have been unable to get an appointment with their usual GP, and in fact have been unable to get a timely appointment with any GP for ongoing management of their health needs.
This has come about because of a severe shortage of general practitioners in Ararat. It is not just in Ararat, but in all rural areas. We are aware that similar difficulties accessing general practitioners have been evident in Stawell and Avoca, and even more so in towns further north of Ararat.
Ararat Medical Centre is currently operating with five doctors less than the same time last year. We are also aware that Tristar Ararat have had doctors leave in recent months. This, combined with some doctors requiring leave for unexpected illness, and for important time with their families during school holidays, has meant that there are days when Ararat has had up to nine doctors less than the ideal number to provide a timely and efficient service to the community.
Despite this severe shortage, the doctors of Ararat Medical Centre have continued to provide 24/7 emergency care to the community through East Grampians Health services Urgent Care Centre.
Ararat Medical Centre has also continued to provide all the inpatient care at East Grampians Health Service, as well as all anaesthetics and obstetric services. There has been no interruption to the provision of these essential services, especially the emergency care for those most in need of medical attention.
Ararat Medical Centre has also continued to provide a service to Willaura hospital and Parklands hostel, and to Elmhurst and Lake Bolac bush nursing centres, although these have been reduced for a short time.
Continuing to provide these services to East Grampians Health Service means that not all doctors are available for routine general practice consultations every day.
The recruitment of doctors to rural towns remains an ongoing difficulty - not just in Ararat but throughout Victoria. The Rural Workforce Agency Victoria has about 60 GP vacancies in western Victoria alone.
Ararat Medical Centre is continually trying to recruit more general practitioners to our town. In the past year, we have interviewed about 20 potential candidates, and have had another 20 to 30 applicants apply through various recruitment agencies.
Ararat Medical Centre is always mindful that we require high quality medical care for our community, and for this reason we do not offer employment to everyone who applies. We first need to be sure that they are suitably qualified to work in a rural area.
They must then pass assessment by the Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), in order to be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA), which will then allow them to work in Ararat. Some must then be closely supervised for at least the initial three months, and further until they complete their Australian specialist qualification as a rural general practitioner. This process takes time and effort, and many possible candidates do not satisfy the requirement of RACGP, AHPRA, or they may not have the skills required to work in Ararat.
Ararat Medical Centre continues to be very active in teaching medical students and training the future general practice workforce through the registrar training program. We continue to be hopeful that our efforts in this area will perhaps lead to an Australian graduate doctor seeking to settle and work in Ararat in the future.
The shortage of doctors could in part be relieved by significant changes in government policy and funding, but there seems little appetite for this among our elected representatives.
However, despite all these potential hurdles, we are looking forward to welcoming some new doctors in the next few months, depending on approval from AHPRA. Two of the doctors we look forward to introducing have completed all their specialist training and have significant experience in Australian hospitals and general practices, and they require no supervision at all.
We have also welcomed Dr Catherine Law and Dr Audrey Goh to Ararat for 12 months. They are completing their specialist general practice training after graduating from Monash University, and after completing three years or more in Victorian hospitals.
We are hopeful that the shortage of doctors in Ararat will be relieved a little in the near future, and the community will again be able to have timely appointments with the general practitioner of their choice.
We would like to thank the community for their understanding during a very difficult six months or more. We realise that it is very frustrating when the next available routine appointment with your general practitioner may be two, three or even seven weeks away.
This delay puts enormous strain on extended parts of the community including nurses in emergency care, aged care and community nursing. It adds extra workload and stress to our clinic reception staff and nurses. It adds complexity and stress to pharmacies, allied health services, ambulance services, and many others, including patients and families of those in need of medical care.
Hopefully in the next few months the situation will be partly relieved.
Please be assured that the doctors and staff at Ararat Medical Centre will continue to provide the best care we can despite the difficult circumstances, and we will continue to try and recruit good quality doctors for the community. We are also very happy to answer any questions or concerns the community may have with respect to recruitment of doctors, and again thank the community for their great understanding.
Dr Michael Connellan,
Ararat Medical Centre