Chemists, GPs consider leaving Lismore

·2-min read

Some of Australia's top medicos have held an emergency summit in flood-ravaged Lismore to call for more help for local health service providers.

The groups, including the Australian Medical Association and the NSW Rural Doctors Network, want immediate cash relief to restore healthcare services in the Northern Rivers region following the destructive floods.

They also used Friday's summit to call for health services to be dubbed essential services so they can secure fast financial relief after disasters such as floods or bushfires.

Floods in the Northern Rivers and Hawkesbury-Nepean regions killed 13 people in NSW in February and March.

In Lismore, pharmacists are living out of caravans and doctors are providing limited services six months after floods devastated the area.

Rural doctors estimate 10 non-government healthcare businesses have damages exceeding $500,000 and another 15 have slightly lower levels.

That makes grants of $50,000 for small businesses and $200,000 for medium businesses inadequate, the group said.

Acting chief executive Mike Edwards said the summit's proposal would help keep businesses open as some consider leaving the area.

"Flood-affected communities must have access to health services and health professionals. These are essential services," he said.

Ken Gudmundsen's Lismore dermatology practice was destroyed by the floods.

He's back practising at the local St Vincent's Hospital, where his rooms are smaller, with less space for nursing assistance.

Dr Gudmundsen's focus on getting his practice back has distracted him from providing a full service to his patients.

He can't perform some services such as testing people for allergens or phototherapy.

"It's been a tough time - a distressing time financially, personally, mentally and physically," Dr Gudmundsen said.

"(It) affects my mental health somewhat and my ability to help patients as easily as previously."

Pharmacist Kyle Wood, his partner and their young child are living in a caravan, without money to rebuild their lives.

He said his services were limited.

"I feel an obligation to my staff and the community to keep providing the services our business is renowned for, but we need assistance to do so," Mr Wood said.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said some providers were considering closing their doors and leaving the area.

"The closure of these services would be devastating for the local communities they serve," Professor Price said.

"The health statistics show regional and rural communities have poorer health outcomes and this would make matters worse."

AMA NSW president Michael Bonning said the cash relief to help local providers was "paltry" compared to the cost of running the services out of hospitals.

"Demand on public hospitals is already overwhelming and the system is struggling to meet performance measures across the state," he said.