A retired Tamworth GP is concerned that the same factors that were keeping general practitioners out of country areas 40 years ago are still present today, despite the best efforts of the industry and government.
For 73 years the Howle name has been synonymous with compassionate healthcare in the Tamworth region, with the late Don Howle commencing work in 1945, before being joined by his son Stephen in 1975.
Last Friday marked the end of an era as Dr Howle saw his final patient, and his biggest concern remains attracting more practitioners to regional areas.
“It is something that has worried me for a long time,” Dr Howle said.
“It is the reason we set up Peel and Oxley Health Care – so doctors didn’t have to buy anything, they could just come and work.
“But I don’t think it has become any more attractive than it was 40 years ago, which is a real concern for the community.”
While Dr Howle said there are numerous factors as to why graduating clinical GP’s don’t want to move inland, he also believes there is a shortage of graduates willing to specialise as a GP.
“The majority of new graduates want to be specialists not GP's – there is a feeling that GP’s are at the bottom of the pile financially and intellectually, and also that the work is too hard, too long and too difficult,” he said.
“People don’t want to live away from the coast either, but these days people can be on a plane and in Sydney in an hour.
“We need to try and change that perception, but it needs to be a total community based effort, because this is an issue affecting the entire community.”
The retiring clinician also said that there are several factors keeping allied health professionals away that may never change.
“By the time people finish training they generally have a partner, and they need a job as well,” he said.
“The non-medical partner generally determines where they end up.”
Dr Howle said that while the shortage of graduates willing to work as a GP is very concerning for regional communities, it is also concerning for healthcare in general.
“The more specialists we have the worse the care, because they treat the one issue or disease, rather than the person.
“A GP is like the conductor of an orchestra – you can have all the instruments playing but you need someone to make sure the music is going in the right direction.”