Senate inquiry looks into shortage of GPs in South West

Brecken Health Dr Brenda Murrison talks on the GP shortage in Bunbury and Busselton. Photo: File image.

Brecken Health Dr Brenda Murrison talks on the GP shortage in Bunbury and Busselton. Photo: File image.

As a Federal Senate inquiry looks into the shortage of general practitioners, South West GPs continue to struggle to attract staff.

The inquiry into the provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians is accepting submissions, but is not scheduled to turn in its report until next year.

That is too long to wait for some practices, with WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement general manager Chris Kane saying many clinics are already experiencing shortages and struggling to deliver services.

"...general practices are under pressure, due to recruitment and other challenges which impact their ability to provide care for their patients and, in some case, their viability as a practice," she said.

"We know of one practice currently advertising for six doctors or locums. They need at least two full-time equivalent GPs to remain financially viable after February 2022."

Read more on the GP shortage:

WAPHA is working with WA health service providers to coordinate a submission.

The inquiry will look into the Distribution Priority Areas (DPA) system, which identifies locations where people struggle to access doctors.

Currently, Mandurah and Bunbury is zoned as metropolitan and Pinjarra as outer-metropolitan, which has made it near-impossible for health service providers in the region to attract and retain doctors.

The classification means Peel and Bunbury practices can no longer use rural pathway GP registrars - doctors in training who are required to spend 18 months in rural regions, a policy designed to address shortfalls of doctors in rural areas.

We know of one practice currently advertising for six doctors or locums.

WAPHA strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane

This saw Brecken Health, which services Bunbury and Busselton, unable to attract GPs.

"Bunbury like Mandurah is experiencing GP shortages for the same reasons, both areas are not DPA," Brecken Health Dr Brenda Murrison said.

"This means we are dependent on fellowed GPs who are no longer under there moratorium. If a doctor leaves it is difficult to replace them because we have to find a GP who is already fellowed."

The Murray Street practice, Pinjarra Doctors dropped from eight doctors to only two to service a patient base of around 10,000 when its DPA classification changed.

Investigation: WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane and Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth both highlighted the struggles of practices. Photos: Supplied.

Investigation: WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane and Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth both highlighted the struggles of practices. Photos: Supplied.

Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth, who has made a submission to the Senate inquiry, said grouping in Pinjarra with the Perth CBD and Mandurah was unfair.

"The Shire of Murray believes that it is unfair that Pinjarra, a town of only 4,500 people, 85 kilometres from the Perth CBD, is zoned within the Perth metropolitan boundary," he said.

"As the boundary excludes Pinjarra from sourcing overseas doctors, Pinjarra relies on the pool of unrestricted doctors, the majority of whom continue to demonstrate a preference for living and working close to our capital city and Mandurah.

"A recently announced incentivisation scheme had minimal effect for Pinjarra as the same incentives were offered for much bigger population bases, including Mandurah which has a population of 85,000."

Read more on the GP shortage:

In the submission, the Shire of Murray requested Pinjarra receive DPA status and the current incentives be more targeted to Pinjarra instead of the Peel region as a whole.

The City of Mandurah will also be providing a submission to the Senate inquiry shortly.

According to a spokesperson, the City is currently working with local community support networks to understand the impact the DPA classification is having in Mandurah.

This story South West GP clinics struggle to attract more doctors first appeared on Mandurah Mail.