Fraser Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Nick Yim said the issue was not shortage of doctors in Hervey Bay but a problem retaining them.
Fraser Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Nick Yim said the issue was not shortage of doctors in Hervey Bay but a problem retaining them. Kevin Farmer

LOCAL AUTHORITY: GP retention is key issue not shortage

THE head of the region's medical authority has refuted reports the bay has a doctor shortage, instead citing doctor retention as the community's main issue.

Fraser Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Nick Yim said appointments were available daily, just not always at bulk billing practices.

"One of the sacrifices of free medical treatment is there might not always be an appointment available immediately with your regular general practitioner," Dr Yim, who also sits on the Australian Medical Association Queensland board, said.

While there were fewer bulk billing practices, he said it was important to remember "a general practice is small business which can't be sustained on bulk billing alone".

Statistics showing no increased pressure on the local hospital from patients turning to emergency departments for GP-treatable illness over the past two years, support Dr Yim's assertions.

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service recorded an average 101 daily presentations to the Hervey Bay Hospital emergency department in 2017, with 46 of those deemed low urgency patients who could have seen a GP. It compares to a median of 103 and 46 respectively in 2018.

A WBHHS spokesman said the organisation was generally successful in recruiting permanent doctors for emergency departments.

"We do, like any organisation, experience a general turnover of staff each year due to retirements and career moves, and our workforce planning takes this into account," he said.

"The retention rate of our first-ever group of Hervey Bay Hospital-based intern doctors has been excellent, with six out of the eight continuing as Resident Medical Officers this year."

Dr Yim did not agree with calls from other coast medical centres to reinstate Hervey Bay's "District of Workplace Shortage" classification to rural as it would not help retain GPs.

He argued practices had already been operating without the rural classification to employ international doctors on a mandatory moratorium for years.

Dr Yim said the trouble medical centres faced with retaining doctors was multi-pronged.

"People want to apply to big cities to train as a GP and then move to rural for family reasons but often if they don't have a support network locally then move back to city areas," he said.

"In the past we have relied on overseas-trained doctors but the difficulty is we have found once they served their moratorium they move back to the city."