Lismore GPs face patient overload

DOCTORS are turning away up to 20 patients a day and local families are struggling to get appointments because of a GP shortage fuelled by tough classification systems.

Goonellabah GP Andrew Binns is calling for a review of the systems, which he said were based on out-of-date statistics. There are about 1200 patients for every one GP in the Lismore region, compared with 796 in Ballina and 585 in Byron Shire.

Dr Binns said the problem had become even worse over the past 18 months, with practices unable to replace six doctors who had left.

"The 2480 postcode area is in trouble," said Dr Binns, a board member of the Northern Rivers General Practice Network. "There are anomalies with the system, leading to places like Lismore having a difficult time attracting GPs, which is really not good on top of the national GP shortage."

The first classification system causing problems is the District of Workforce Shortage system, which allows areas under its classification to attract overseas doctors.

Dr Binns said the 2480 region did not come under that umbrella, based on 1991 doctor and patient ratio statistics which he said 'urgently need updating'.

The second is called the Rural, Regional and Metropolitan Access (RRAMA) system, which grades regions on a scale of one to six: one being metropolitan areas and six remote areas, with the Lismore area given a ranking of three.

Only a limited number of GPs are given provider numbers to work in RRAMA one to three areas, and a GP can only get full Medicare rebates and incentives if they have a provider number for the RRAMA area they are working in.

The idea is aimed at getting more doctors to work in rural and remote regions, but Dr Binns said it meant there were not enough doctors able to work in RRAMA three areas such as Lismore.

"The incentives just aren't there," he said.

"It means there aren't enough doctors to go around and we are being forced to knock back new patients."

Dr Binns said the situation was unfair on overworked local doctors and on patients needing to see a doctor.

The Northern Rivers General Practice Network has approached Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin in a bid to rectify the situation.

Ms Saffin said that she was aware of the problem and she had written to the Federal Minister for Health and Aging asking for a review so the current 'confusion' could be sorted out.

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