GPs leaving Bundy for better pay ... an hour away
BUNDABERG is sick, and only the Federal Government has the cure.
Doctor David McDougall owns 26 medical practices throughout Queensland but says he will be forced to close one of two clinics in Bundaberg by the end of June if urgent action isn't taken.
Dr McDougall said the problem wasn't a lack of customers - in fact, between the two clinics, at Hinkler and Stockland, doctors provide an average 80,000 consultations a year.
Instead the issue was retaining qualified general practitioners.
He said doctors in Bundaberg were being lured to places such as Hervey Bay and Gympie, which could offer them double the pay.
The reason for this, he said, was a discrepancy between remote classifications.
Medicare, when issuing rebates, refers to a classification for Rural, Remote, and Metropolitan Areas on a scale from RRMA1-Major City to RRMA7-Very Remote.
Bundaberg, Bargara, Elliott Heads and Coral Cove fall under RRMA3, whereas Maryborough, Hervey Bay and Gympie are RRMA4.
Because of this, Dr McDougall said six GPs had left the area in the past couple of weeks to go to Maryborough and Hervey Bay and it was "impossible to replace them".
A non-fellowship GP working in a RRMA3 area receives about $12.60 from a standard bulk-billed consultation. A GP in a RRMA4 region receives about $25.94.
Dr McDougall said because of this, the only new doctors to the region recently had been trainees and of the bulk-billing practices in Bundaberg, he was only aware of one that was still taking on new patients.
If he is forced to close his practice, Dr McDougall is worried about the extra strain it will place on the public hospital system as patients jam up the emergency department with routine complaints.
"Where these patients are going to go instead, I just don't know," he said.
Dr McDougall said after the fallout from the Jayant Patel saga in the early 2000s, there was a public distrust of all doctors and that was another reason why more attention was needed to help attract doctors to the region.
"Instead of extra help and support, the opposite has occurred and it seems the government has inadvertently made it even more difficult, actually impossible, to attract new doctors to the Bundaberg area," he said.
Dr McDougall has petitioned Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt to take action to save his surgery.
He has also been in contact with Bundaberg Regional Council to seek their support
He said his practice was not the only to face these problems and in light of Bundaberg's welfare dependency, it was important it was rectified as the region remained a town of greater need.
Mr Pitt said he was consulting with Health Minister Greg Hunt's office.
"The District of Workforce Shortage system will be reviewed by the Distribution Working Group established under Assistant Minister David Gillespie's Rural Roundtable," Mr Pitt said.
"I will be lobbying Minister Gillespie to ensure that Bundaberg is appropriately considered as part of this review," he said.
"I have also extended an invitation to the minister to visit the electorate so he can meet with local doctors and discuss challenges they may be facing.
"Medicare funding will increase by $2.4 billion over the next four years, including a $1 billion commitment to all doctors by restoring indexation of the Medicare rebate starting with bulk-billing incentives from July 1, 2017.
"The bulk-billing incentive paid to GPs for bulk billing children and concessional patients applies at the higher rural and regional rate in Bundaberg."