High hopes for rural health
REVIVING general practice medical services in the bush is the lynchpin for sustainable primary healthcare in the face of a massive influx of workers into the Galilee, Bowen and Surat basins, according to the new Rural Doctors Association Queensland president, Emerald’s Dr Ewen McPhee.
The role of the family doctor in looking after chronic, non-acute physical and mental health had never been more important for the region to combat the breakdown in patient access to public care, he said.
With first-hand knowledge of the unsettling situation pregnant mothers in Emerald and surrounding towns have faced since 2006, Dr McPhee pledged to make security of maternity services a key priority for his term at the helm of RDAQ.
“We have seen many rural birthing units closed and further restriction of choice for young families,” he said.
“RDAQ believes local birthing services are a key ingredient of a vibrant community.
“I am committed to being involved in discussions with stakeholders that will provide a safe, sustainable birthing service for rural women.”
Dr McPhee highlighted the urgent need to attract more GPs to rural and remote areas to alleviate the stress put on emergency hospital departments. This was possible through Queensland Health’s innovative rural generalist program, but let down by government policy, he added.
“Rural item numbers that reflect the complexity and higher costs of healthcare provision are essential,” Dr McPhee said.
“The new Rural Classification System that places rural towns such as Emerald in the same group as a regional city like Townsville is making it less attractive for doctors and other health providers when choosing where to settle.
“I strongly advocate we should be reviving general practice. GPs are the lynchpin to sustainable rural services. For too long now general practice in rural areas has been underfunded and unsupported, making the attraction and retention of young doctors increasingly difficult.”
Overseas-trained Australian doctors account for more than 50% of rural practitioners and without them, non-urban areas would “be in a very sad state”, Dr McPhee said.
“But even now, a significant number of those doctors and their families cannot access Medicare,” he added.
“Often these doctors fear speaking out about their challenges and it is my intention to take their voice to policy makers in government.”