THE ongoing problem of rural areas attracting doctors has been compounded with the resignations of doctors from three major Wheatbelt centres.
The doctors at Wyalkatchem, Kondinin and Southern Cross medical centres are all resigning at the end of this year or the start of next year leaving a looming gap in medical services for the Wheatbelt.
Local shires fear it will be a difficult gap to fill, with an Australia-wide doctor shortage and 57 General Practice vacancies in WA alone.
The Southern Cross General Practice’s Dr Edward Soloman handed in his resignation recently and finished on Friday after working there for three years.
Dr Soloman was the sole doctor on call servicing Yilgarn’s population of 3000.
In an open letter to the Southern Cross community he cited family and personal reasons for leaving however raised concerns about the lack of equipment, lack of training to hospital staff, lack of nursing staff and lack of support from WA Country Health Services. Yilgarn shire chief executive Peter Clarke said the Shire had done their best to support him, but the staffing and resources at the hospital were a responsibility of the Health Department.
“We bend over backwards to help doctors out with all the ancillary things like cars, a house and things like that, but when it comes down to the hospital, WA Country Health Services resolve all that,” Mr Clarke said. He said the Yilgarn Shire engaged a company called Gemini Medical to recruit new doctors for them. “Each time we’ve had a doctor leave here, it’s taken some time to get a new one, and it’s not an easy task even for Gemini, who are in the game of recruiting doctors. That’s why we pay them to do it so we don’t have to put ourselves through that.
“If you see how much difficulty they’re having finding doctors even in Perth, then you can see how much harder it is going to be out in the country.
“You can’t get them out to the country areas, because they’re on call here 24/7, and it does sort of make it difficult, whereas in Perth they go to the surgery in the morning and leave in the afternoon and it’s more like an 8am to 5pm working day.”
He said he expected Gemini would find a locum to service the shire while a permanent doctor was sought. The Kondinin Medical Centre’s Dr Venkata Sangharaju resigned recently and will finish on February 25 to move back to Perth after working at Kondinin for two and a half years.
Like Yilgarn, Kondinin Shire engage Gemini Medical to recruit their doctors however after Dr Sangharaju tendered his resignation, Gemini Medical cancelled their contract with Kondinin shire giving only two weeks’ notice.
This has left Kondinin Shire with the full responsibility of finding a replacement doctor.
“We’re starting the search, so to speak, and it’s going to be a long one,”
Kondinin Shire chief executive officer Peter Webster said.
“With 57 doctor vacancies in WA, doctors can be choosy about the positions that pay the most or offer the best incentives or provide the best house.
“We provide very good facilities here, including a car, the medical practice building which is only three years old and incorporates a pharmacy, and the house which is only four or five years old. Now, overseas trained doctors need to sit an Australian medical exam and gain Australian qualifications before they can practice here, and they only hold these exams once a year in Johannesburg and London and other select locations, so it’s much harder for doctors to qualify to work in Australia.
“It’s extremely hard and every state is suffering.” Wyalkatchem locals were saddened last year to see their long term doctor, Dr Frank Kubicek, who had been practicing there for 27 years, leave to move to Perth.
Wyalkatchem Shire then went to some trouble to assist a doctor in immigrating from overseas, Dr Chris Sudell.
However having completed one year, he left last Thursday leaving a vacancy for the shire to fill once more.
“He gave us three months’ notice and since then we’ve been working very proactively trying to continue the service and attract a doctor, but so far we haven’t had any success,”
Wyalkatchem Shire chief executive Peter Kocian said.
“It’s very frustrating because I think the community got used to always having a doctor on call and available and now we’re facing the prospect of having a disruption to that service,” Mr Kocian said.
“With all the other towns around who are looking for a doctor, it doesn’t bode well when we’re competing with places like Port Hedland that are prepared to pay their doctors up to $4000 a day.”