Why Gympie GPs are ringing alarm bells about region’s future
When it comes to Gympie’s future growth it is no secret the region is flourishing.
But will anyone be there to treat those people when they inevitably get sick?
There is a growing concern among local GPs that Gympie is headed for a health care nightmare thanks to an ongoing inability to attract more doctors to private practice in the region.
In 2018, the region’s population was forecast by the Queensland Government to be more than 54,000 by 2026. It has already exceeded 52,000, and could go much higher much sooner thanks to people packing up from cities and heading to regional areas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The region is also facing a rapidly ageing population. Between 2009 and 2019 the average age of residents jumped from 42.1 to 47.
In comparison the state’s average aged only increased from 36.2 to 37.4.
And this growth would come at a time when a number of GPs are likely to want to call it a day.
“Ageing GPs in the region (like myself) are thinking of ramping down,” Dr John Manton said, adding the region’s GP numbers could drop by up to seven in the near future.
And when they did it would “not be good news for the hospital,” where more and more people would get frustrated by lengthening waiting times and ultimately travel for treatment.
The Federal Government has not included Gympie city in its list of priority areas for GPs, and that was not helping matters, Dr Manton said.
The region is split under the Federal Government Priority Distribution Area system.
While the Mary Valley, Kilkivan and Cooloola Coast areas are all designated as areas of need for GPs, the city itself is not.
Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien said this designation was “decided by an independent process which takes into account a range of factors including the population demographics, such as gender and age, and socio-economic status of patients living in a catchment area”.
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The next review of the nation’s PDA designations will happen this year.
Mr O’Brien said this system was not the only one the Federal Government had to help boost GP and doctor numbers.
Other programs included a $49.7 million Rural Generalist Training Scheme announced this week “to boost doctor numbers in the bush by supporting training for up to 400 doctors in regional areas”, the Rural Bulk Billing incentive, “which provides a higher bulk-billing rate for regional and rural services” and the Practice Incentive Program “which aims to improve the capacity and accessibility of practices, with a loading for regional and rural areas of between 15-50 per cent”.
And there is no doubt there has been some previous success in attracting doctors to Gympie.
Federal Government data shows between 2013 and 2019, the number of employed doctors in the region increased from 88 to 120, with more than two thirds of that growth happening in 2017-19.
Figures from the Wide Bay PHN show between July 2019 and December 2020 the number of GP practices rose from 8 to 11, with a related full-time equivalent workforce from 34 to 50.5.
However, local GPs, including Dr Manton, believe the figures do not paint an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground, with the increase in total doctors most likely representing increased number of doctors at the Gympie Hospital, not GP clinics.
“We think the figures they’re working under are faulty,” Dr Manton said.
There were other hurdles of a more complex nature, too.
The city’s location posed a unique challenge when it came to attracting doctors.
Dr Manton said when people were posted to areas like Cairns or Longreach “you’re living in Cairns or Longreach”.
Those coming to Gympie, though, were just as likely to want to live on the Sunshine Coast.
Dr Manton said this was for legitimate reasons like family but “they eventually get tired (of the constant travel)”.
Another problem could be found in the educational pipeline.
“The intake of people training to be GPs has dropped,” Dr Manton said.
“Part of the reason for this is because they’ve expanded the training options for specialists.”
All of these factors combined to paint what he believed to be a grim picture of the region’s private health services in the future.
“All of these things are coming home to roost,” Dr Manton said.