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Four to six weeks wait for GP appointments in Brokken Hill

Broken Hill people often have to wait up to six weeks to see a doctor at GP services.

One individual who had been off work for two days and was still too unwell to return to work could not see a doctor for a medical certificate face-to-face or by phone in Broken Hill.

They had to rely on an internet GP service to cover the five days of sick leave.

Both the Superclinic and Thrive report that the most significant problem is the inability to get doctors to work in town.

Chief Executive Officer for Thrive Medical, Heather Pearce, said, “we have been trying for 14 months to recruit a Senior Medical Officer, with no success.”

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Ms Pearce pointed out that not only does the position come with a good income it includes a house, travel, return trips home, paid day-care, plus a car added as incentives to come to the service.

“We have also been trying to employ full-time GPs but until we can we have to use locums.”

Thrive Medical has four arms to its business, GP services, allied health, imagery and NDIS.

Ms Pearce explained three of the services make money, but the GP service does not.

The GP service is covered by locums who receive $250 an hour.

“Each GP position earns $160 an hour from Medicare for bulk billed clients but the service is paying an extra $90 per hour for the doctor to fill the position,” Ms Pearce said.

Clients paying total cost do cover the cost but there are a lot of patients who qualify for bulk billing.

Thrive Medical’s Operations Manager, Mel Purcell, said, “the Rural Doctors Network do all they can to help. They have advertised for doctors for us, but to no avail.”

The government have also put in place numerous incentives to attract doctors to the bush but the problem remains.

The GP Superclinic also has a four to six-week wait for patients to see a doctor and blames the inability to attract doctors.

Dr Funmi Komolafe, a Director at the service, said the situation has become increasingly hard, with COVID only making the situation worse.

“We are a training service and have been so for 20 years so we can have trainee GP doctors.

“We are lucky to have permanent doctors but it has become harder to recruit and to retain doctors in Broken Hill,” she explained.

“The problem exists in the cities as well but their waiting times are only up to two weeks.” Dr Komolafe added.

According to GP Superclinic Practice Manager, Natasha Nadge, “The situation has become increasingly worse, especially after the COVID lockdown because many doctors now prefer to work closer to home so they cannot be cut off from their families.”

Anecdotally, readers have reported that the lack of the Fast Track service at the hospital is also causing problems.

With few GP appointments available in town, and not everyone able to use the internet to get an online appointment, the only alternative is the hospital.

The hospital ceased Fast Track many months ago with the doctors being moved over into the Emergency Room, but this has now led to extended waiting times at the hospital.

Dr Komolafe said that better incentives were needed to attract doctors to Broken Hill and that it has to be a multi-sector and regional response.

“We need to work together to try and find solutions to attract doctors to Broken Hill.”

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