A medical service model that concentrated on having a full-time emergency paramedic/ambulance position may be better for the community of Alpha than a permanent doctor, according to the Central West Hospital and Health Services executive director of medical services, David Rimmer.
Dr Rimmer was responding to news that another petition for a permanent doctor had been started by the Alpha Tourism and Development Association.
“This has been an issue since 2006, when the last doctor left,” he said. “There’s a similar petition from Aramac, with a population of 390, that wants someone there 24/7 in case of accidents.”
Alpha’s population, estimated at somewhere between 450 and 500, is well below the threshold of 800-1000 Dr Rimmer said was needed to sustain a permanent doctor, but Tourism and Development Association president Lavina Anderson said this didn’t take into account the 150 properties in a region covering 21,000 square kilometres that included Jericho.
“We are positioned on a major highway – the Capricorn – and have a new $17.5m hospital but no doctor.
“We believe a permanent appointee would increase and enhance medical services to both centres, including outpatients and private surgery clinics, and to the many and varied accident and emergency cases.”
At a meeting last week, attended by the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, a decision was made to begin a petition, which Lavina said attracted lots of positive attention at the weekend campdraft.
All Mr Millar said in the wake of the meeting was that he had spoken with CWHHS representatives, who he understood were looking at “viable options” to provide GP services in Alpha.
“I understand the importance of this issue and I am committed to working with both the Central West Health and Hospital Service and the Alpha community to reach a resolution as soon as possible,” he said.
That viable option could be achieved by expanding the three days that GPs visit each week from Barcaldine, plus one day to the Jericho clinic, to a five- day Monday to Friday service, according to Dr Rimmer.
“It’s eminently possible for Alpha to look at a Monday to Friday service with a moderate increase in funding, which would have to come from somewhere else,” he said. “That would have to be a political decision – there’s nowhere the money can come from without affecting someone else.”
He said if an analysis of need was done, Alpha residents would find they were much better off lobbying for this in conjunction with an emergency paramedic, who was better placed to deal with the occasional accident.
Money for a paramedic would have to come from the QAS budget.
Ms Anderson said that option might “sell us a bit short”, asking what sort of back-up it would provide.
As well as saying the lack of a permanent doctor was a deterrent for people and families contemplating a move to Alpha, she thought it would be more cost effective for the CWHHS to place a medico within the community rather than having someone drive over and back from Barcaldine each week.
By Dr Rimmer’s calculations, a 24/7 GP model of care, or a 168 hour a week service, would need three doctors.
“That would cost $1.5m and what would they be doing during the day and after hours,” he asked, saying the patient load was not sufficient.
“We’re happy to discuss it with them but the reality is, if I were that community, I’d be asking what it is I need.
“The GP needs are being met – attendances at the clinic are increasing, and as far as after hours and emergency needs are concerned, they should consider that adding extra doctors won’t improve their outcomes.”
He said the CWHHS would be happy to provide someone to attend a public meeting should one be called, to provide further information.