Leaders across the region have condemned a paperwork issue that threatens to close the Uralla Medical Centre and called for urgent intervention to save the popular GP service.
Both federal member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, and state member for the Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, have been patients of Dr Ricardo Alkhouri and were outraged that this critical health service may close.
The Centre announced over the weekend that it would close permanently later this month, largely due to Medicare recently refusing its application for rural practice incentives, as a result submitting the required paperwork after the due date.
Mr Marshall said it was one of the worst cases of bureaucratic overreach he had seen, and that he had written urgently to federal Minister for Health Mark Butler to intervene in the situation.
“If this decision isn’t reversed it will have huge adverse consequences for Uralla and our region,” Mr Marshall said.
“I have written to Minister Butler this morning asking for his urgent intervention to have Medicare accept Uralla Medical Centre’s paperwork, so its closure can be avoided.”
“We cannot afford to see this clinic close and the loss of medical expertise from the community and our region and I will do everything I can to ensure this does not happen.”
“I hope and trust that Minister Butler will intervene quickly and give Uralla Medical Centre’s application the favourable consideration it deserves,” Mr Marshall said.
The Uralla Medical Centre is the only full-time practice in Uralla – a town without a hospital and an ageing population – and Dr Ricardo, as he is affectionately known, is a very popular GP. Of the 3000 patients on his books who are now facing being without a doctor, many travel from Armidale or other centres for his services.
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce MP confirmed he had sent an urgent letter to the Federal Minister for Health, Mark Butler, requesting the Commonwealth Government urgently and proactively engage with Dr Alkhouri to resolve any outstanding issues.
“This is an issue of critical importance to the local area. We can not have another country town lose a doctor”, Mr Joyce said.
“I have used the Uralla Medical Centre myself. I know how important it is; and I know how vital it is this clinic stays open.”
Mr Joyce said the threat of closure unmasked all the “mealy-mouthed words and glossy brochures” in the recent Federal Budget where the Labor Government had promised more funding for regional and rural health.
“It doesn’t matter what dollar-figures are promised in a budget if there is no one on the ground to deliver those services in local communities”, he said.
Mr Joyce said there was money in the Federal Budget to continue funding rural practice incentives.
“So what’s required is the Minister picking up the phone to his own Department and pushing some of that money out the door, for the purpose it is intended, so that Uralla Medical Centre can stay operational,” he said.
More on this story tomorrow on the New England Times.