Kununurra’s only private medical practice might disappear as quickly as it arrived unless the State and Federal governments offer financial support to pay escalating doctors’ fees, according to its owner Abby Harwood.
Dr Harwood is scaling back the practice to operate four days a week without a locum and with herself as the only doctor.
She has been unable to attract a permanent GP for less than $350,000 a year since she purchased the four-year-old practice in November last year.
With locum doctors charging in excess of $1000 a day, Dr Harwood said she could not afford to pay the fees which she said were escalating rapidly.
Dr Harwood was concerned the practice would have to close if she could not employ a second doctor to share her workload. “I’m working a minimum 12 hours a day, I can’t maintain that,” she said.
She said private GPs in rural WA needed more financial support because hospital GPs could not provide the same service.
“It’s not the hospital’s job and it’s not their set-up to be helping people manage diabetes over the longterm,” Dr Harwood said.
“People of this town deserve good-quality general practice from doctors who are committed to the community and I believe the government should be supporting that.”
She said the Kimberley should be supported by Royalties for Regions through a system similar to the Southern Inland Health Initiative, which offers attractive packages to draw private GPs to rural areas in the State’s south.
But Minister for Regional Development Brendon Grylls said the Southern Inland initiative was implemented to combat a different problem. “In the southern area is that we’ve got towns with a hospital – without a doctor you can’t admit anyone to the hospital so there’s no point having a hospital,” he said. “With salary doctors in the north-west hospitals you don’t have that problem of having a redundant hospital because there’s no doctor.”
“But I do accept that the package that we’ve put together is an attractive package and to a degree is working. Areas that are not in the Southern Inland Health area are now reporting to me that, ‘well hang on a sec, we had a doctor that was 50/50 on where they were going to go and the chose to go to the SIH area because of the package’.”
Belinda Bailey, chief executive of health worker representative body Rural Health West, said private GPs across rural Australia were facing closure.
“Market forces have seen the cost of locums skyrocket over recent years,” she said.
“The impact of that is mostly seen in solo rural general practices and the consequence is that those solo rural GPs burn out because they can’t get a break. We should be seeing incentives for rural general practitioners to make sure that they do get a break.”