RURAL health services are facing the challenge of an ageing general practitioner population, as Boort welcomes a permanent doctor to town for the first time in nine months.
Boort has been without a permanent GP since November 2018 when St Anthony's Clinic closed services in the town.
Bendigo and surrounding rural areas have faced a shortage of GPs and trainee general practitioners this year, putting pressure on practises and extending patient wait times.
Health professionals have described increasing need for GP services in these areas, alongside funding frozen for a decade.
Boort District Health chief executive Darren Clarke said the ageing medical workforce was a growing concern right across rural Australia.
Mr Clarke said the demands of being the only doctor in a community, professional isolation and an increasing trend towards specialisation in the medical profession meant it was becoming more of a challenge to attract GPs to rural communities.
While there had been a lot of interest in the Boort position, most doctors wanted to travel from Bendigo, he said.
The difficulty attracting GPs was "critical", affecting rural areas more and more, Mr Clarke said.
"There's a number of doctors that are due to retire in the next few years, but there isn't a replacement workforce," Mr Clarke said.
"The dilemma that we face is that the newer generation of doctors aren't inclined to pursue the demands of a rural practice.
"To secure a doctor who's residing in the town is a great relief to the community. It secures their presence more, it sends a strong message to the community that the doctor wants to be here and be part of the community and to live here."
Mr Clarke said the prevalence of chronic disease and preventable illness in rural communities like Boort warranted quite intensive primary healthcare initiatives.
But there was limited capacity to provide these, because of the geographical isolation and the low population base of these areas, he said.
Mr Clarke said a permanent GP meant communities could build rapport with their doctor.
He said other businesses within Boort benefited from the security of a stable medical practice, because without one people left town to see a doctor.
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive officer Matt Jones said community members saw health services as critical to a community.
Mr Jones said patients had difficulty accessing services because the regional Victorian system relied on small-scale GP practices, but the local economy didn't support larger configurations of primary care services.
The effects of drought and an ageing demographic meant health needs in these areas were increasing, he said.
Changing expectations among young doctors also meant these small-scale practices were less attractive from a work point of view, he said.
Mr Jones said the system needed structural change to combat this, involving partnership between federal, state and local systems.
"Your health needs increase, yet funding for the primary care system, the medicare benefits schedule system has been largely frozen for 10 years," Mr Jones said.
"So you've got increasing costs, you've got increasing burdens associated with quality regulations, but the income and revenue is largely staying the same.
"It means many small practices are potentially becoming less viable than they were historically."
New Boort doctor Christopher Olise said he liked the challenge of working as a GP in a rural area, with the chance to treat patients from all demographics.
Dr Olise has moved to Boort with his wife and two sons. He has previously worked in Swan Hill and Western Australia.
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