BENDIGO patients are waiting three weeks on average to see a doctor, as GP shortages continue to bite down hard in the region.
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive officer Matt Jones said about 20 per cent of Greater Bendigo's medical clinics had closed their books to new patients.
"There has been a continuing shortage of GPs and secondly there is an increase in demand for healthcare from deferred care due to COVID. Even with tele health appointments, some people have been unable to access health care during lock down and as a result people are sicker than usual before accessing healthcare."
Flora Hill Medical Centre welcomed new GP Dr Jelic Dabic (pictured) from St Albans a week ago. Clinic director Dr Mario Fernando said her addition to the centre had allowed new patients to be added to the books.
"It is very hard to find new GPs to recruit, I was very lucky to find somebody as experienced as Dr Dabic who was willing to come and settle in Bendigo,'' he said.
"I started looking in August and she has just started."
Dr Dabic is an overseas trained doctor who passed her exams five years ago to become an Australian GP and has been practicing in the western suburbs.
"My children have grown up and finished university now,'' she said.
"My husband is a civil engineer. We planned to move to a regional area and have a quieter life and there is a lovely community here."
Mr Jones said new government incentives for GPs to move to regional and rural areas were welcomed but it would still take a significant amount of time to make a difference. The federal government has offered to cut student HECS and HELP debts for doctors who relocate for four to six years.
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"The fact that about 20 per cent of all practices in Bendigo are closed to new patients at the moment means they cannot meet emerging demand,'' he said.
"It's only after more GPs come to the area that you will see that changing. It's tidal, it takes time for the effects to flow through."
Doctors who spend the equivalent amount of time to their degree - generally four to six years - in regional cities and towns with populations between 50,000 and 5000 will have their HECS or HELP debt wiped.
"Bendigo is part of regional Australia and we expect we should be included in those measures but we have to wait and see. There will be more detail coming in,'' Mr Jones said.
The program, which will also apply to nurse practitioners, will start in January next year and is multi-layered. Mr Jones said debt retirement should be attractive to a lot doctors.
"The HECS debts are huge and it's a big incentive and we think it's a great initiative but of course it has to be accompanied by other incentives as well,'' he said.
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