OUR FLYING DOCTORS

SWAN Hill District Health has taken the dramatic step of flying in doctors from Melbourne.

Swan Hill District Health director of medical services Dr Ka Chun Tse confirmed city practitioners were embarking on fly-in, fly-out visits to the Heart of the Murray to cover staff shortages.

Swan Hill District Health director of medical services Dr Ka Chun Tse confirmed city practitioners were embarking on fly-in, fly-out visits to the Heart of the Murray to cover staff shortages.

A chronic shortage of available medical professionals is forcing the hand of the local service to adopt the measure.

Gaps being filled by visiting doctors are occurring in emergency, obstetrics and anaesthesia.

Swan Hill District Health director of medical services Dr Ka Chun Tse confirmed to The Guardian that city practitioners were embarking on fly-in, fly-out visits to the Heart of the Murray.

"We are short staffed in multiple areas of the hospital. We are flying in short-term medical staff from Melbourne to cover us," Dr Tse said.

A shortage of doctors is not unique to Swan Hill, with many rural and regional areas across Australia facing the same problem. 

Dr Tse said a major issue is this region has been classified by the Federal Government as having no workforce shortage of general practitioners, a fact confirmed by a Federal Department of Health spokeswoman.

An area is defined as having a District Workforce Shortage if the local population has lower access to Medicare-subsidised medical services, compared to the national average. 

This, Dr Tse said, restricts the already small pool of doctors available. 

"We have GPs in the area, but we need them to cover shortages in the hospitals," he said.

Dr Tse argues that the Swan Hill region does have a GP shortage. 

He believes the answer lies in a greater focus on developing 'home-grown doctors' and encouraging more country kids to go into the medical profession.

"We have been working on this in partnership with the government and other training providers, bigger hospitals in Bendigo, Echuca and other areas, to train doctors all the way through in rural areas," he said.

"Training people with rural backgrounds, with partners with rural backgrounds mean they're more likely to stay."

Member for Mallee and Nationals MP Andrew Broad raised the issue of doctor shortages in rural Australia in the House twice earlier this month, calling for action on the issue. 

Mr Broad said this had been an ongoing problem for the region and while the government has implemented a response it has had limited success.

"The government called a district and workforce shortage and it determined once a year on the shortage of doctors. If an area qualified for a shortage, it meant they could have more opportunity to bring in doctors from other parts of the world," he said, adding that this was only ever meant to be a stop gap measure

Training capacity was also increased, with more scholarships given out, particularly to country students. 

Mr Broad said instead of fixing the problem this has created another, with doctors "over-servicing" the cities and the country still not receiving doctors. 

Both Dr Tse and Mr Broad agree on the factors preventing doctors from making the move to rural areas: professional isolation, a lack of employment for spouses and schooling for their kids, and also a lack of awareness as to the positions available.

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