Oct 12, 2022

Attracting doctors to regional aged care facilities a ‘deteriorating situation’

12_10_22 doctor crisis

The chair of a rural New South Wales aged care facility has described accessing and keeping doctors in remote areas as “a deteriorating situation”, as doctors in the area leave or drop their patient load.

Mike Lomax, Chair of the Eloura Aged Care facility under Quirindi Care Services (QCS) in the town of Quirindi, is offering three months of free rent and an ongoing rent cap to a potential replacement doctor in an attempt to try and stop his aged care facility from closing its doors permanently due to lack of medical care.

Last month, the facility saw a doctor resign, who treated a quarter of Eloura’s aged care residents, and another doctor said they could no longer see two of their 34 patients, meaning 16 residents are going without access to a General Practitioner (GP). 

Now without a doctor, affected residents have been left with less than a month’s worth of medication. Without a GP, these resident prescriptions cannot be renewed.

Mr Lomax said the general consensus was that the working conditions, particularly the pay, weren’t adequate to support doctors in rural and remote areas, resulting in doctors leaving whenever another opportunity arose.

“If we can’t provide the conditions and the pay that they need, they’re going to go somewhere they can get it,” he explained. 

“We’re in dire straits – the situation isn’t improving, it’s getting worse. 

“If we can’t bring residents in, we aren’t financially viable so unless we have some form of Government support, the quality care we provide to the rest of the residents are at risk.”

He added that for the 16 residents who cannot access a doctor, the only option to receive medical care if they were to fall ill was for the facility or family members to take them to an external medical practice or call 000. 

The nearest available medical practice that will see Eloura residents is in Tamworth, which is about 58km away from the facility. 

Mr Lomax hoped closing the facility was not on the cards, having sold two assets to keep the facility afloat for a few more months, however, without a replacement doctor the facility could be forced to turn away new residents unless they already have access to a General Practitioner (GP) outside of the facility.

Eloura Aged Care needs to care for a minimum of 62 residents to remain financially viable, but they currently only house 58, so the facility is in danger of running out of access to money, on top of issues accessing medical staff. 

Walhallow Aboriginal Health Corporation, based in Quirindi, has three GPs and two registrars, who are split between the three towns of Coledale, Caroona, and Quirindi.

Eileen Goode, Practice Manager, admitted the corporation needed more than just one doctor, and would rather need four more doctors to assist with care. 

Walhallow has been seeing as many people as possible, but they still cannot keep up with demand.

“We have a lot of phone calls from non-registered patients saying ‘can we come and see you? We can’t get into a doctor, our doctor’s not here anymore – can you help us?’,” Ms Goode told The Guardian.

“Unfortunately, a lot of those people we’ve actually had to turn away because we’re servicing around 5,000.

“One of the worst feelings in the world is turning someone away, sending them to a hospital who also doesn’t have a doctor.”

Mr Lomax has contacted all levels of Government for help and received a reply from Liverpool Plains Mayor, Doug Hawkins, and the State’s Minister for Regional Health, Bronwyn Taylor.

During a video conference with Ms Taylor and Mr Hawkins earlier this week, Mr Lomax informed them of the facility’s dire situation and was promised by the State Minister that accessing some un-tapped funding could help keep them afloat. 

“We have some outstanding funding from COVID shutdowns and there were additional expenses there we could claim through a Government subsidy program,” Mr Lomax said. 

“They promised to work on getting that money back to us which could be up to $100,000 and can help us carry on.

“They’re also exploring what other service options are out there to provide us like access to telehealth appointments and other areas we are short on.” 

The facility and Mr Lomax are awaiting the confirmation of this funding and access to assistive health services. 

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