HARROWING and heartfelt stories were told by the shire's residents as they pleaded with "those in the know" to fix the doctor shortage in town.
A public meeting was held on Tuesday to discuss the shire's increasing doctor shortage and the need for a permanent doctor at Leeton District Hospital (separate to the on-call roster). Residents turned out in their droves for the meeting, which was organised by a group that has become known as the Campaigners for Rural Equality.
All facets were covered at the meeting, with Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD), long-time Leeton GP Dr Dan Pettersson, candidates in the upcoming state election, mayor Paul Maytom, Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and residents all getting their points of view and facts across.
The issue of the doctor on-call roster at the hospital was discussed, with the community informed it wasn't possible to force a registrar into that system as many were after a work-life balance.
Working 12 hours in a clinic during the day and then being on-call at the hospital is a system that isn't appealing to doctors training in town and forcing them to does little to want to make them stay on.
Several shared turning up to the hospital's emergency department seeking urgent medical attention for injuries and another believed he was having a heart attack, but a doctor was not available to attend to them.
There were also stories involving pregnant women experiencing hardships, but having no doctor to call on or speak to at the hospital.
At the meeting, MLHD said it would look into attracting a chief medical officer for the hospital, which would help the situation and ensure a doctor is on staff.
The issue was labelled as complicated at the meeting, but residents have said they just want a "fair go" and "what's right".
This year there are seven GP registrars working in General Practice at Leeton.
However, to date, only one of these doctors has nominated to work at the hospital on the on-call roster.
MLHD said it was grateful to the GPs VMOs who are working hard to support the on call roster.
With reducing numbers of GPs in rural towns, the District is exploring different models for medical officers to support Leeton hospital.
The new strategies include:
- Working in collaboration with the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network and the Rural Doctors Network to attract GPs to Leeton. A number of incentives are offered, including training and education opportunities, supported accommodation and links with the Griffith Base Hospital medical team.
- The district has commenced a training/education course run by the Wagga Wagga Emergency Medicine physicians for rural doctors to receive further training in emergency patient management. This additional training is available to up skill doctors who have not had recent experience working in an emergency department.
- In addition MLHD is seeking locum doctors to assist with immediate roster gaps.
This year, there is a significant reduction in the number of Australian medical graduates who have chosen to train as general practitioners and in recent years fewer again choose to work in rural practice.
While the number of rural GP training places is going up, the number of people accepting them is going down.
This has significantly reduced the number of doctors available to support our local hospitals.
Speaking at the meeting, Ms Ley said working on behalf of patients to build a better outcome was crucial.
"The system has broken down and that's what we are trying hard to fix at all levels ... this is a problem in many country towns," she said.
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