Armidale GPs are calling for immediate action from both state and federal government to address the current GP crisis.
There is a current crisis with the loss of up to 13 GPs leaving the city this month and two practices at the point of closure. Thousands of Armidale region residents now have no access to vital general practice services. There are shortfalls in hospital staffing, particularly in the Emergency Department and now extremely limited after hours or weekend services at the city’s GP practices.
New England Division of General Practice Chair, Dr Vicki Howell, said the local health system was at breaking point. The Division will present a six-point plan to tackle the crisis at a community forum at the Armidale Bowling Club on February 15.
“It is inevitable people will die or suffer unnecessary trauma if they have to drive unsustainably long distances to access services they need,” said Dr Howell.
“Other community specialists, along with general practitioners, are leaving Armidale because they are in such short supply they simply cannot manage the workload.”
“The system needs an overhaul to restore confidence and attract the critical mass of community doctors, practice nurses and specialists to meet the health needs of our community.”
The calls for a complete overhaul of the system to get better healthcare for rural communities have also been made by NSW Farmers.
Armidale GPs say they are putting the state government on notice to stop diverting health resources and funding to Tamworth and Newcastle at the expense of Armidale and its surrounding region. There have been repeated calls for Hunter New England Health district to be split in two for over a year, and long before the current crisis.
The Division is advocating that the State and Federal Governments, and their agencies in primary and hospital-based care, act immediately to:
- Fund and support the single-employer model for junior doctors in our region so that they can more confidently jump across from hospital-based employment to general practice. This will increase the number of junior doctors being attracted into general practice training which will result in an increased GP registrar workforce.
- Reinstate Distribution Priority Area regulations, ensuring that new international medical graduates entering Australia on skilled worker visas continue their vital and significant role in the medical workforce. This will result in replacement of community-based GPs and ensure a medical workforce for Armidale Hospital.
- Specifically fund rural general practice nurses to enhance the role of the entire primary care practice team. Direct funding grants would enable the existing practices to greatly increase the number of patients they are able to accommodate and provide an ongoing care model. This will avoid fragmentation of care and reduce the need for hospital presentations, with better supported preventive care and care of chronic health conditions.
- Urgently address the major hole in after-hours care by funding an after-hours service, staffed by general practitioners, similar to access models operating in other regions.
- Hunter New England Local Health District to adequately staff Armidale Hospital in order to maintain safe services most critically in obstetric and surgical services and the Emergency Department for the safety of our rural community.
- And the RACGP training organisation to immediately lift capacity restrictions on supervisors and practices in Armidale in order to increase the number of trainees entering general practice. These doctors can be recruited from April and commence practice in town from August.