Fears over doctor shortfall in rural and regional Queensland

Doctor shortfall: Biggenden community will have no permanent doctor from December 10 to January 3

Life & Style
RURAL DOCTOR CRISIS: Biggenden's only medical facility will have no permanent doctor from December 10 to January 3.

RURAL DOCTOR CRISIS: Biggenden's only medical facility will have no permanent doctor from December 10 to January 3.

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Biggenden's only medical facility will have no permanent doctor from December 10 to January 3.

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Queensland Health says it is striving to improve medical services for regional and rural residents as some rural towns are left without local doctors over the festive period.

The shortage has become all to real for the North Burnett town of Biggenden.

Following a recent departure of a resident doctor, the town's only medical facility, Biggenden Multipurpose Health Service, will have no permanent doctor from December 10 to January 3.

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Doctor shortage a 'serious concern' for Biggenden

Local resident Mark Copeland said the doctor shortage was a source of serious concern for residents and local employers such as engineering facilities and meatworks in case of work place accidents.

The nearest alternate medical care is in Childers, 45kms away.

Mr Copeland said situation looming at the Biggenden facility is unacceptable.

"This situation is a source of serious concern to a large portion of the local community, many of whom require monthly and even bi-monthly or weekly treatment and consultations let alone those who are the most frail living in the aged care facility," he said.

"While I recognise that the situation has been brought about in part by the departure of a long standing local doctor those responsible for securing a replacement, Wide Bay Hospital and Health Services appear to have done precious little in the time that they have been aware of his pending departure."

"Many in the community chose to reside in Biggenden because of the proximity to medical facilities. We among others, are already considering alternate locations to relocate to if this situation is not resolved expeditiously."

WBHHS actively recruiting for replacement

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service chief executive Debbie Carroll said the departure of the hospital's permanent medical superintendent, coincided with a second doctor undertaking professional development in emergency medicine.

"WBHHS shares the community's concerns regarding the need to ensure appropriate medical cover at the Biggenden Multipurpose Health Service until a new medical superintendent is found," Ms Carroll said.

"We're currently actively recruiting to provide interim arrangements to ensure appropriate medical cover with Christmas being acknowledged as generally a period when high demand for locums exists.

"Such training is essential to providing regional communities with quality and contemporary healthcare.

Ms Carroll said in recent years, regional areas have found it challenging to recruit skilled medical staff which has been further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boyce calls for change

Residents have written letters to Callide MP Colin Boyce who has argued for years the provision of medical services to rural Queensland has reduced, with limited services from Queensland Health provided.

"The Queensland government seems to have a policy of centralising health care to the larger hospitals, which has added to the demise of basic health care to communities such as Biggenden," Mr Boyce said.

"The Queensland Health service is a debacle that has become overrun with bureaucratic incompetence which is delivering little in terms of basic health care to rural Queensland.

"In the case for the Biggenden community having no doctor, I have written to the WBHHS asking for an explanation as yet we have not received a reply.

"Into the future medical staff including doctors could be posted to rural centres to address the health needs of communities."

Subsidise travel, accommodation available 

A spokesperson for Queensland Health said distance and geographical implications, as well as isolation, were important considerations when managing healthcare services in Queensland public hospitals.

"The Queensland Government recognises this, which is why it subsidises travel and accommodation costs for Queenslanders living in rural and remote locations through the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme (PTSS)," the spokesperson said.

"The scheme subsidises patients who are required to travel more than 50km from their nearest public health facility to access specialist medical treatment not available locally.

"Patients who travel to a private specialist service can also apply for a subsidy if a specialist service is not available within 50km of their nearest public hospital."

Queensland Health said eligible patients can qualify for financial assistance for an escort to travel with them to attend their specialist appointment.

Patients should discuss their eligibility for the PTSS with their local health facility. This subsidy program is in addition to Queensland's Telehealth initiative," the spokesperson said.

"This continues to be a vital part of the State's public health system, particularly for patients in rural and remote communities.

"We have seen a 300 per cent rise in the use of virtual clinic sessions across the state."

In 2021, Queensland clinicians have performed more than 181,000 videoconference consultations, compared with around 240,000 in 2020, and 124,260 in 2019.

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