Opinion

View From the Paddock: Why the bush deserves better maternity services

By Michael Reinke
February 20 2022 - 1:00am
Michael Reinke, president, Rural Doctor's Association of Queensland

Prior to the pandemic, the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland had fought for the restoration of rural maternity services as a key element in the quality and sustainable health services that our rural communities deserve.

COVID-19 has consumed much of our industry's attention and resources over the last two years and the impact of the additional workload on our already-stretched rural health workforce has been a challenge.

Advertisement

Ad

However, rather than focusing on quality services, the current state government is planning a trial that will deploy community pharmacists to act as doctors with the ability to prescribe medicines for a range of chronic diseases.

Clinical medicine, in particular the ability to effectively diagnose medical conditions, is not a skill in which pharmacists are trained. It takes on average 10 years of training to become a fully qualified general practitioner and there is simply no safe way to train a pharmacist in clinical medicine other than for them to become a doctor.

The restoration of birthing services would not only attract qualified general practitioners to rural communities, but it would also bring GPs with an increased level of training back to the bush, attracting rural generalists with advanced skills in obstetrics and anaesthetics amongst other skills.

These advanced skills provide a mantle of safety over a community by attracting rural generalists with skills like Dr Deb Simmons, who was recently awarded an Order of Australia Medal for managing five seriously injured miners in the 2020 Grosvenor coal mine methane explosion.

Dr Simmons, a rural generalist, was only in Moranbah by chance to provide one-off training at the Moranbah Hospital.

Prior to COVID-19 the government had a plan that could bolster medical skills in the bush by restoring rural maternity. In 2019, the then Health Minister Stephen Miles convened a maternity services summit in Cairns. It asked "what steps could be taken to minimise the risks for mothers and babies in rural and remote communities while providing services near where they live".

Since 2020 this plan has stalled. Only three sites in Queensland have been reviewed. And there are no known plans to restore any sites without a pre-existing commitment.

Our rural communities deserve better. They deserve more than a poorly considered plan to have pharmacists fill this gap.

- Michael Reinke, RDAQ president

Want news highlights delivered to your inbox? Sign up to the North Queensland Register newsletter below.

Get the latest QLD news in your inbox

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.