Australia Medical Association addresses doctor shortage

REGIONAL TOUR: Australian Medical Association state President Professor William Tam and Chief Executive Joe Hooper visited the Port Augusta Hospital and other local health services.
REGIONAL TOUR: Australian Medical Association state President Professor William Tam and Chief Executive Joe Hooper visited the Port Augusta Hospital and other local health services.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) have announced plans to speak ‘loudly and clearly’ on behalf of Port Augusta to advocate for more general practitioners in the region. 

AMA state president Associate Professor William Tam and Chief Executive Joe Hooper have been hearing from local doctors on pressing issues during their visit to Port Augusta this week.

With 10 full-time equivalent GP’s in a town nearing 14,000 people, Professor William Tam said workforce shortages were a common theme.

“Having once had around 21 GPs to serve the community, Port Augusta has been reduced to effectively 11 full-time equivalent GPs, and yet it does not qualify as an area of medical workforce shortage,” he said.

“Somewhere in Canberra there is a flaw in the assessment.”

Statistics show Port Augusta as an area with a high number of Medicare provider numbers, these numbers are used to identify the health care worker and the practice location.

People who have worked in Port Augusta previously may have provider numbers still linked to the location, even though they have moved on.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) also attributes to a high number of provider numbers, although these doctors do not practice exclusively in Port Augusta. 

“Port Augusta needs to be able to attract more GPs to provide relief to those working many hours a day to look after their patients in the community and those they admit to the hospital,” Dr Tam said.

“This must include the ability to recruit from overseas, if necessary, and the current block from denying the area a workforce shortage classification is a significant barrier.

“We certainly do need to acknowledge that there is a genuine shortage of doctors here and secondly, to try and get together and rectify what may be a bureaucratic error.”

Dr Tam also highlighted the new workforce model introduced to keep the Port Augusta Hospital Emergency Department open. 

Previously the department was run by only a few GPs who were working double shifts in order to provide services.

Two Melbourne locums are now employed in the emergency department, serving the hospital over a seven-day roster.

“That is clearly not a sustainable option. You could say this is a crisis situation that needs to be dealt with now,” Dr tam said.

“This new model of care envisages a four shift system that incorporates not only GPs but also RFDS workers.

“Port Augusta Hospital is like the canary in the coal mine for rural health services. It was in a critical situation due to the increasingly heavy demand and the lack of medical support staff.

“The rest of rural South Australia is no doubt watching what happened in Port Augusta and how the new investment and medical staffing model will help with providing a sustainable medical workforce in the future.”

Federal Minister for Rural Health Bridget McKenzie has been contacted for comment.