Healthy North Coast to conduct targeted surveys investigating the shortage of doctors in Port Macquarie-Hastings

GP SHORTAGES: Receptionist Jade Drayton at Your Family Practice.
GP SHORTAGES: Receptionist Jade Drayton at Your Family Practice.

Healthy North Coast (HNC) is about to undertake targeted surveys investigating the shortage of doctors in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area.

HNC is undertaking the community consultation with the Mid North Coast Local Health District to explore the influences on health demands in Port Macquarie. The survey will target emergency department users and the general population.

Healthy North Coast chief executive officer Julie Sturgess said health service demand is driven by changing community need due to demographic, socio-economic, environmental and other factors.

Factors contributing to the shortage could be an ageing population, population growth, the cumulative impact of the bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and floods, she said.

"From a technical perspective, Port Macquarie is well serviced in terms of GP supply. Healthy North Coast has observed, however, that the current health needs of our community are high and we need to understand this better," Ms Sturgess said.

"In terms of GP supply the Port Macquarie-Hastings region has a higher number of GPs than the national average. According to the National Health Workforce Dataset in 2019 there were 1.77 full time equivalent GPs per 1,000 people in Port Macquarie compared to 1.09 nationally.

"Additionally we can see from Medicare data that the rates of primary health care service usage in Port Macquarie exceeded the regional, state and national averages.

"In 2018-19, GP attendances were higher in Port Macquarie at 759 per 100 people than the regional and national averages. The GP attendance rate was highest among people aged 65 and over and lowest among the 0-24 age group.

"Healthy North Coast understands that the emergency department is also seeing record numbers of presentations, so demand is consistent across both acute and primary health care."

A Healthy North Coast survey conducted with 34 general practices in Port Macquarie in June this year found there was high demand for services but also capacity for 12 practices able to take on new patients.

Your Family Practice Lakewood practice manager Deidre said the majority of practices in the region are closed off to new patients because they cannot keep up with demand.

"I could employ three or four more doctors everyday and have them busy every day. I've offered agencies, offered more money but it's very difficult to get doctors to stay in the area," she said.

"Every single practice in Laurieton and North Haven has been trying to recruit doctors since they opened and for the last five to six years.

"We have a growing population, we have registrars that come in for six months at a time but we just don't have the doctors we need and it's very difficult.

"On average we may have a lot of doctors but if you look at the number of doctors who work part-time and also the demographic of the population, we have more older Australians and people that have chronic conditions who need to see someone on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.

"Not having enough doctors means we have to manage those we have very carefully. We have to watch them for burn out, we have to watch that they have enough holidays and be really careful to manage their time to give them quality of life."

Minister for Regional Health and member for Lyne, Dr David Gillespie said one of his biggest priorities is to deliver solutions for rural communities facing GP shortages.

"I've announced a review process to help rural communities respond to unforeseen changes to their medical workforce," he said.

"The Distribution Priority Area system assesses regions annually, using the most up to date data to support approvals for priority access to internationally-trained doctors and bonded doctors.

"If an application is approved under this review process, an area will be eligible to access additional programs to support recruitment of a broader pool of doctors."