Health sector faces battle for numbers

BIG TASK: Rural Doctors Association of SA president Peter Rischbieth said the organisation wanted to see action taken to address the shortage of rural GPs.

BIG TASK: Rural Doctors Association of SA president Peter Rischbieth said the organisation wanted to see action taken to address the shortage of rural GPs.

THE number one item on Rural Doctors Association of SA president Peter Rischbieth’s wishlist for 2019 is action to address the chronic shortage of GPs in country areas.

“At the moment, there are 60 vacant GP positions in rural SA, which is the worst it’s ever been,” he said. “The West Coast is struggling more than anywhere else. There are also critical workforce issues in the emergency departments at Port Augusta, Wallaroo and Port Pirie.”

Dr Rischbieth said an ageing workforce was one issue facing the sector.

“There’s also some doctors who are saying they’re not wanting to work as many hours a week, and are not able to commit to a full roster,” he said.

The shortage meant some towns were relying on locums, an expensive option that did not provide continuity of care. Dr Rischbieth said a major issue was that SA did not have a Rural Generalist Training Program in place, when nearly every other state in Australia does.

“At the moment, the training pathway for junior doctors wanting to work in the country is still not clear,” he said. “The positions are there, but it’s hard for doctors to find out about then and it’s hard to access them.”

Another area the RDASA has been lobbying on is for teaching hospital status to be located in country areas.

“We also need to look at different workforce models in towns including Port Augusta and Port Pirie,” Dr Rischbieth said.

We also need to look at different workforce models in towns including Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

“Country Health SA promised 12 months ago to do an audit of the workforce in many sub-regional towns and that hasn’t been done yet.”

There is also a critical workforce shortage in maternity units such as at Naracoorte, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. This has meant those towns had been on bypass – meaning patients were forced to go elsewhere even if they had planned to have their baby in a certain hospital.

Dr Rischbieth said issues in metropolitan hospitals were also having flow-on effects to regional areas.

With the new Royal Adelaide Hospital pushed to the limit with patient numbers, it meant there were often delays getting country patients in for care.

“We want a smooth journey when getting patients to other hospitals,” Dr Rischbieth said. “But we’ve had the loss of the Repat (Repatriation Hospital) and there’s less beds at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, which means the system is really struggling.

“When we’re faced with delays with getting people into hospitals, it means people are sicker by the time they get there. But that’s where it’s important that rural doctors have enough confidence in their skills to look after hospital-type patients.

“It’s also the reason why we need a well-trained workforce of GPs, specialist nurses and allied health professionals in the country – to ensure we’re providing quality care in local hospitals, which helps ensure a smooth corridor when we need to escalate patients’ care.

"Being a rural doctor is a great career choice for young doctors and we look forward to more of them joining us working and living among rural communities.”