SOME central Victorians are facing wait times of up to three weeks to see a doctor as a lack of trainee general practitioners puts pressure on rural practices.
Rural health professionals say practices in Elmore, Rochester and Echuca are struggling to attract registrars, putting strain on senior doctors and blowing out wait times.
A registrar is a qualified doctor training in a medical specialty program which will allow them to practise medicine independently. Certain primary care practices are accredited to provide general practice training to registrars.
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Elmore Primary Health practice manager Kathy Tuohey said a lack of registrars had created a workforce shortage, which meant patients could not be seen the next day.
She said the Elmore practice lost two registrars last year and had not been able to replace them. Normally they would have numerous applicants to Elmore and Rochester each year, she said.
Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president and practitioner Megan Belot said many rural practices in Victoria had not been able to find registrars this year.
Dr Belot practises in Echuca and Kerang.
Ms Tuohey said most registrars stayed for two years at the Elmore practice, building up continuity with patients under a senior GP supervisor.
These registrars take the pressure off the principal GP by seeing patients while completing their training, she said.
Ms Tuohey said the practice was now warning patients they might not be able to get an appointment immediately, and to stay on top of their prescriptions.
"Normally we would receive numerous amounts of registrars applying for a position at either Elmore or Rochester, but this year we did not have one," she said.
"There's a lot of frustration in our community when you have to wait to see a doctor. It can be three weeks.
"Normally in the past we've had enough doctors working that we can get patients in the next day. We certainly put patients in if it's an emergency or a sick child."
Ms Tuohey said the lack of registrars applying was due to zoning changes from the Victorian training body.
She said rural clinics would love to see training requirements for registrars that meant they had to complete six to 12 months of training in a rural area.
Doctors received valuable experience training in places like Elmore, which was equipped for emergencies and handled patients from conception, through to one aged 104, Ms Tuohey said.
Dr Belot said there had been a lower than normal numbers of registrars applying for GP training nationwide.
She said she understood training body Murray City Country Coast, which covered much of Victoria, had not forced people to train rurally because of lower numbers of registrars applying.
MCCC chief executive Greg McMeel said it was difficult to provide registrars to areas outside bigger regional towns and away from Melbourne.
Mr McMeel said rural training zoning policies were removed several years ago because they were not achieving their aim: to get trainees to stay in town long term. He said this change was under a former training provider, not the MCCC.
He said MCCC policy gave practices that struggled to fill positions the first look at registrars who came into the program.
"What that system was doing was sending people to places they didn't want to go, and ultimately they didn't settle there," Mr McMeel said.
"We're doing what we can to recruit these doctors, and we're also trying to recruit to those areas of need, above trying to get doctors into metropolitan practices."
To increase rural GP training rates trainee doctors needed to be encouraged to take on general practice training, Mr McMeel said. He said many trainees considered specialist career options over general practice training.
Dr Belot said a number of changes had reduced the number of young doctors applying to train as GP registrars.
She said the main reasons junior doctors avoided GP training were a capped number of years to complete training which made the system less flexible for those who wanted to have children; underpayment of registrars; and the Medicare rebate freeze, which meant GPs earnt a lot less than in the past.
"The young generation of doctors are a hell of a lot more clued on than my generation," Dr Belot said.
"They're a lot more clued on about maternity leave, long service leave, how much their pay is, and what their entitlements are essentially.
"The next generation are really looking at lifestyle, they want to be able to spend time with their family and they want to be able to work part time as well."
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