Gunnedah Rural Health Centre to drive change in doctor shortage

Gunnedah Rural Centre board of directors chairman Rob Hooke, practice manager Amelia Smith and new chief medical officer and director of medical services, Dr Martin Joldowski-Tan.

Gunnedah Rural Centre board of directors chairman Rob Hooke, practice manager Amelia Smith and new chief medical officer and director of medical services, Dr Martin Joldowski-Tan.

There was no sugar-coating Gunnedah Rural Health Centre’s critical doctor shortage.

Board of directors chairman Rob Hooke admitted the facility was at the brink of collapse.

“We got to the point (where)our doctor numbers were that low, we were running the risk of not being viable,” Mr Hooke said.

But last week’s appointment of “practice builder” and remote doctor specialist, Dr Martin Joldowski-Tan, could change that.

The health centre’s new chief medical officer and director of medical services spent about six years treating patients at Walgett.

Dr Joldowski-Tan will now assist the recruitment and retention of doctors in Gunnedah.

He will also help build the leadership capacity of registrars and junior doctors. The aim is to ensure a permanent, skilled medical workforce in Gunnedah.

... we were running the risk of not being viable. - Rob Hooke, chairman

“[Joldowski-Tan] knows remote communities well and has great contacts in the network,” Mr Hooke said, who estimated Gunnedah was about 3-5 doctors short of what is required.

While locums provided a quick, albeit costly solution, health centre business director Amelia Smith said they were not a long-term answer to Gunnedah’s doctor woes.

“It’s only a stop-gap measure to meet patient needs,” she said.

The NVI published a story last week about an urgent call for locums in Gunnedah.

That position has been filled and another has been recruited for next month.

A NSW Rural Doctors Network spokesperson said the north west region’s doctor shortage has been an issue for “some time”.

Neighbouring small centres like Quirindi and Walcha, as well our own Gunnedah hospital, already have “large locum loads”.

But we are not alone with our doctor shortages. 

“Throughout regional Australia, it’s always difficult to recruit,” the spokesperson said.

But having secured the services of Dr Joldowski-Tan was a “promising opportunity” for Gunnedah and “the best result in a long time”.

Mr Hooke said the health centre’s remuneration is good and does not believe money to be the problem.

He considered it more of a social problem centred around perceptions of isolation in country areas.

“It’s not the money, it’s the perceived lifestyle,” he said.

“Most see here as an isolated area… to them it’s more of backwater.”

During Dr Joldowski-Tan’s stay in town, which could be up to 18 months, he will also help lighten the load of existing health centre doctors with some patient consultations. 

Once more doctors are secured, the plan is to offer some services to Gunnedah hospital to help alleviate its staff shortage.

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