BENDIGO patients are still struggling to access general practice treatment, despite a change which allowed clinics to recruit overseas trained doctors.
Health professionals say Bendigo residents are still ringing around clinics, trying to book any available appointment.
It's inconvenient for patients, and may be putting pressure on other parts of the health care system, they say.
The shortage continues despite the federal government designating Bendigo as a priority area for medical workforce distribution in July.
Bendigo Family Practice doctor Arvind Sharma said the city's cohort of GPs was approaching retirement age, one of the multiple reasons people were struggling to find a new doctor.
Dr Sharma said that as each GP retired, it meant maybe 2000 people seeking a new doctor.
But most doctors were at capacity, he said.
Dr Sharma's clinic allocates blocks within the day for patients to make same day appointments. But these slots go within one or two minutes.
Most clinics in Bendigo have been fully booked by the start of the day for the past six months, he said.
Waiting to see a doctor was inconvenient for Bendigo residents, placed pressure on other parts of the health system, and meant simple infections or the like could get worse before treatment, Dr Sharma said.
Continuity of care - important with any family GP - was also an issue when patients struggled to get appointments. It also meant patients presenting to the emergency department with health problems appropriate for a GP to treat, he said.
"It's not so much the patient care, it's the stress on the public health system in Bendigo," Dr Sharma said.
"Anyone who has an acute issue will go to emergency, it's those ones that don't have an acute issue."
Dr Sharma said he could not see any more patients, because it would jeopardise the care of the patients he had.
He said the burden on Bendigo's GPs seemed to go in ebbs and flows.
The GP shortage was a "snowball" effect of factors, where the city lost its equilibrium, he said.
But Dr Sharma said fixing Bendigo's GP shortage was not a simple thing. He said Medicare needed to look globally at how it reimbursed doctors, with the increase in rebates to GPs not even meeting consumer price index.
Long term doctors needed incentives to come to Bendigo, he said. This might mean a training centre in the city, to prevent young doctors leaving for Melbourne.
"We've got to try to localise training methods for young doctors who want to become GPs locally, to incentivise them to return to care locally," he said.
"It's not a simple measure of just saying let's get some more doctors in. You're uprooting a lot of people who are based in Melbourne."
Bendigo Community Health Services director of Primary Health Care Services Graem Kelly said the clinic was still receiving calls from people, seeking a doctors appointment at any clinic.
Mr Kelly said there had been a slight increase in the number of general practitioners within Bendigo since June.
But he said individuals were still waiting up to three weeks at a time for general practice care.
BCHS has increased its doctor numbers since June, with two more medical registrars. Mr Kelly said the clinic was also looking to recruit another two.
But the high demand in Bendigo was putting pressure on emergency and clinic's receptions.
Mr Kelly said all the parties involved - including state and federal government - needed to work together to meet the primary healthcare needs of the community.
"There needs to be ... some rhyme reason and sensibility come to the fore in sensibly reviewing how can we as a society continue to have significant gaps in care and continue to do nothing about it," Mr Kelly said.
"Unless all levels of government come together and look at it with fresh eyes, unencumbered by political gamesmanship, by the vested interests that play in health that we're going to continue on with the same problems."
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive Matt Jones said there were still "real challenges" for people to access GP services in Bendigo.
He said many practices had closed their books, and were not admitting new patients.
Long wait times mean patients with ongoing conditions were booking in for appointments on the prospect that they may need it down the track, further increasing waiting times, Mr Jones said.
Long waits created two problems for healthcare, Mr Jones said.
"There's the fact that people don't access health care when they need to and when it's required and how that impacts on the health of an individual," Mr Jones said.
"We also know that some people subsequently seek care in other directions, such as the emergency department at Bendigo Health.
"The system doesn't work as efficiently and as effectively as it can when there's pressure and stress on the services."
Mr Jones said it would take time for Bendigo's July classification as a distribution priority area for health workers would take a little bit of time to make a difference.
This change allowed GP clinics to recruit overseas trained doctors.
But not everyone agreed there was a GP shortage in Bendigo.
Breen Street Medical Practice manager Wendy Yao said two doctors at the clinic were more than happy to accept new patients.
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