Rural health services are pushing for structural change in the industry as central and northern Victorian towns continue to feel the effects of GP shortages.
Two full-time GPs service the Kerang region. In September 2017 it had five.
Northern District Community Health chief executive officer Mandy Hutchinson has been busily attracting locum GPs, but admits it’s not a long-term solution for the town.
“It's pretty scary at the moment to be working in the space, especially when you're trying to look after your community,” she said.
Ms Hutchinson said the main problem was attracting and retaining medical professionals.
“Students don't want to move to rural areas, that’s a real fundamental problem - we need to grow our own better,” she said.
“We will not be able to continue on if there's no long-term plan because it’s not affordable (for the health services to employ locums). It will end up being an us and them society and we want an equity of access. It’s a bit worrying.”
A group of Victorian community health services, including Northern District Community Health, Cohuna District Hospital, Boort District Health, Murray Primary Health Network, Gannawarra Shire Council and Swan Hill District Health Services, are advocating for a ‘four pillars’ program to be considered by the state and federal governments.
The as yet uncosted and unfunded plan aims to develop pathways that link medical graduates to an intern training program that focuses on developing procedural skills and employ experienced GPs to provide supervision to rural GP clinics who do not have vocationally registered GPs.
The plan also advocates for continued investment in telehealth options for small rural health services and to explore the development of a funded nurse practitioner model in the Murray region that supports supervision and delivery of services in small rural communities no longer able to access GP services.
Boort’s GP clinic was due to close next month, however Boort District Health on Friday confirmed it had reached an agreement with Australian Health Industry Group (AHIG) to operate the Boort Medical Clinic from November.
This initial agreement will be to June 30, 2019 and is for one GP, according to CEO Darren Clarke.
“We would prefer, in the long-term, for the provision of two doctors but in the interim we’ve put some money toward helping AHIG establish itself locally and we hope the relationship can work,” he said.
Mr Clarke said while the initial arrangement was not necessarily cost-effective, it was cheaper than sending locals to Bendigo.
Other clinics, in Wedderburn and Inglewood appear to have greater stability.
Inglewood and Districts Health Service CEO Tracey Wilson said Wedderburn has had a stable GP for more than 10 years, while Inglewood has a long-term arrangement with the Marong medical practice to rotate GPs through the town.
“There are areas where its more difficult (to attract GPs) than others,” she said.
Ms Wilson said the health services in the region were adopting a collaborative approach to the GP shortage in order to improve the situation for respective communities.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.