Desperate attempts to attract doctors

19 Apr, 2006 08:45 PM
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NORTH-WEST pastoralists will have access to more medical services if doctors support a joint local government and industry proposal.

Roebourne Shire and industry partners including Burrup Fertilisers, Pilbara Iron, Dampier Salt and North West Shelf Joint Venture formed a working group to help attract and retain medical staff to the area.

Shire president Dani Nazzari said the alliance was formed out of desperation after more than three years without enough doctors and little State Government assistance.

"For the past three years we have had a major GP crisis and residents and pastoralists visiting town have had to wait for up to three weeks to see a doctor," Mrs Nazzari said.

"Obviously some patients can't wait because it's an urgent matter so they then go to Nickol Bay Hospital in Karratha where emergency room waits can be up to seven hours."

Mrs Nazzari said the only bulk-billing GP service in the region was the Aboriginal Medical Service at Roebourne.

"But it is so busy with social security recipient patients and very low income earners that it can't accommodate other people," she said.

"So the shire and mining companies, through the Chamber of Commerce, came up with a package to offer doctors to encourage them to stay in town or attract them to the region.

"Everything is on a pro-rata basis so the more the individual contributes to the community, the more incentives and rewards they will receive."

The package includes subsidised housing with the shire providing five houses and industry providing two in cases where continuous service has been given.

Airfares will be offered through the year for doctors to visit family in city locations and discounts to local recreational facilities will be available.

"If the GP gives five years of continuous service in the shire then they will be eligible for a bonus of about $40,000 dependent on service given," Mrs Nazzari said.

"We did ask the State Government to contribute to housing construction costs and a project officer's salary - so about $850,000 - but they said no.

"People up here in Karratha, Wickham, Dampier, Roebourne and the outlying pastoral areas don't have the same opportunity to travel 30km across the city for a bulk-billing doctor as Perth people do because there isn't any medical service 30km away."

Mrs Nazzari said there had been many cases where residents with acute health complaints had worsened and been at considerable risk because of a lack of emergency care.

But she said local government and industry had taken the initiative to change the situation because that was the only option.

Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls said local governments had not taken on such funding responsibilities willingly.

"They have done it so their residents will have a doctor to go to," Mr Grylls said.

"I wonder whether any Fremantle residents are paying for their local GP through their rates.

"It is disgraceful that the State Government with its so-called V8 economy and half-year $1 billion surplus wants to transfer the entire country health burden to the private sector.

"The Roebourne Shire and its industry partners have stepped up to the plate but the greedy city-centric Carpenter Government is nowhere to be seen."

Mr Grylls said it seemed the State Government was more concerned about building sapphire clocks and steel poles on the Mandurah rail line than with building houses for doctors at Roebourne.

In a March letter responding to Mr Grylls' concerns about funding in the shire, Health Minister Jim McGinty stated that he strongly encouraged Roebourne Shire to look to industry to help support medical services because their own workforce would demand such services and benefits from them.

WA Country Health Service chief executive Chris O'Farrell handballed the issue to the Medicare system.

"A full team of salaried doctors is working from the Nickol Bay Hospital and state funding will enable this to continue because the Federal Government's Medicare system has failed to provide the level of medical services in the country as they have in the city," Ms O'Farrell said.

"The Shire of Roebourne has a right to expect the Federal Government to give it some assistance to strengthen private medical services."

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