Local GPs Dr Chris Mitchell and Dr Sue Page are calling for more Federally-funded university training places to end a critical shortage of rural doctors.
Local GPs Dr Chris Mitchell and Dr Sue Page are calling for more Federally-funded university training places to end a critical shortage of rural doctors. David Nielsen

Bush crying out for 1800 extra doctors

RURAL Australia, including the Northern Rivers, is in the grip of a severe drought of health professionals, with at least 1800 additional doctors needed to ensure even basic healthcare in the bush.

Lennox Head doctor Chris Mitchell, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said about 100 'bright, up-and-coming' doctors were likely to be turned away from GP training this year because there were simply not enough Federally-funded training places for them.

Dr Mitchell said the cost of primary medical care would rise, people would continue to suffer from preventable illnesses and many would die unnecessarily if GP training places were not increased by at least 100 a year until 2015 - about an extra five per year on the Northern Rivers.

Some local towns, such as Casino and Bonalbo, only have one GP to more than 4000 people, about four times the number of patients a rural doctor would ideally consult.

Many GPs have been forced to close their books to new patients because they just can't accommodate the growing number of residents requiring appointments.

“Each year we just get further behind, especially in a place like the Northern Rivers, where the population is growing and we are getting more and more aged people,” Dr Mitchell said.

In a bid to curb the rural GP drought, Dr Mitchell and other representatives from peak doctor groups have banded together to form United General Practice Australia.

The new group is demanding that the Federal Government fund an extra 1500 GP training places by 2015, plus major investment in GP infrastructure and more support and training for general practice nurses.

Dr Sue Page, former president of the Rural Doctors Association Australia, and current director of the North Coast Medical Education Collaboration, said solo GPs, such as in Casino and Bonalbo, faced the biggest challenges and were particularly vulnerable.

“They are forced to work very long hours and often go without holidays,” she said.

The call for more GPs comes as the worsening rural health crisis was discussed by rural doctors at a national conference in Sydney at the weekend.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says she is 'aware of the issue regarding training places' and that her department is 'currently looking at options in this area'.



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