Alarming shortage of doctors on the Tweed

By NEELIMA CHOAHAN

GENERAL practitioners are in danger of becoming a rare species on the Tweed, a local health official has confirmed.

Tweed Valley Division of GPs executive officer Gary Southey said there was only one GP to 2288 people in the region which includes Coolangatta and Kirra.

The numbers were well above the Federal Government's National Standards recommended figure of one GP to 1200 persons.

"On an average it could take two weeks to see your family doctor," Mr Southey said.

Mr Southey said the Tweed was facing a GP shortage even though the Federal Government denied it.

"We have 100 GPs for a population of roughly 85,000 people," he said. "But of that 100, only 59 are full-time equivalent.

"Then we have to take into account the Standard Whole Patient equivalent which incorporates under-14 and over-65 year-olds.

"This group accesses the GPs more frequently than other age groups. Forty per cent of our population falls into that group."

The government also failed to consider the increased holiday population which added to the overall burden, he said.

Mr Southey said what compounded the issue for most practices was that not only were they not able to get local doctors, they were also denied the opportunity to hire overseas doctors.

"To be able to recruit overseas-trained doctors, a region has to be classified as a District of Workplace Shortage," he said. "In the Tweed, only Pottsville and Cabarita qualify.

"Kingscliff, South Tweed Heads, Banora Point, Coolangatta fall outside the category."

However, Mr Southey said, with a 33 per cent of over-65 population, that area was "screaming for more doctors".

Apart from inadequate medical services, the shortage impacted upon the doctors' personal life, he said.

"The average GP works 40 hours a week. Compared to other members of the community, doctors are over-represented in marital breakdown, and drug and alcohol-related problems," he said.

Tweed Valley Division of GPs spokesman Graeme Burger said young doctors were reluctant to train as GPs due to the lack of incentives.

"It's always been a poor cousin," Dr Burger said.



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