War of words over GP shortage on the Coast

Member for Robertson Lucy Wicks and Member for Dobell Emma McBride

There are hopes a recently announced Federal Senate Inquiry will help address the Central Coast’s chronic and ongoing shortage of doctors, as Federal MPs Lucy Wicks and Emma McBride conduct a war of words on just what constitutes a “new” GP.

Member for Dobell McBride announced two weeks ago that a Senate Inquiry was to be held to examine GP shortages in regional and rural areas such as the Central Coast.

Within days, Member for Robertson Wicks announced the region would be home to 33 new GP registrars, evenly distributed across the Coast, and starting work from this month.

“We know there has been a real challenge in attracting and retaining GPs to the Central Coast for a number of years now, so we have been working progressively solve this problem,” she said.

McBride was quick to hit back, saying she was “frustrated to see claims recently that 33 new GP registrars were set to start work in the region this month” – which she claimed was not true.

“I’ve spoken to local health professionals in the area, as a pharmacist myself, and these registrars already exist and work on a rotational basis,” she said.

“They are not new GPs for our community.

“We have a major shortage of GPs on our hands, and we need to do something to fix this.”

The next salvo came from Wicks, who countered that the 33 GP registrars commencing work from August are all new to the Central Coast.

“A GP registrar is a fully qualified medical doctor, undertaking advanced training to specialise in General Practice,” Wicks said.

“They are required to complete an advanced GP training program over at least two years.

“GP Registrars commence four rounds of six-month placements as part of their GP training.

“Some of these registrars have already completed their first six-month placement on the Coast and are now undertaking an additional placement in our region.

“Others are completely new to the Central Coast and have never trained here before.”

Wicks said the Primary Health Network continued to implement a range of initiatives to help recruit and retain GPs including the Central Coast Sea Change program which provided GP relocation and retention incentives.

The initiatives also included: funding for GPs to undertake further training in skin cancer detection and treatment; wellbeing and support activities aimed at ensuring GPs feel supported professionally and personally to combat fatigue and disillusionment; and provision of financial support for medical students and General Practices to encourage the placement of medical students on the Coast.

“These new doctors will deliver better health services for locals, with some of them already assisting the GP effort since the start of 2021,” she said.

McBride said the shortage of GPs is even worse on the northern end of the Coast because it is not classified by the government as a Distribution Priority Area.

The Federal Senate Inquiry will examine reforms to the Distribution Priority Area classification system and GP training as well as the GP shortage in regional areas.

Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, welcomed the news of the Inquiry, saying the pressure on the region’s GPs to administer vaccines above and beyond their normal work further highlighted shortages.

“The inquiry will help find solutions and shine a light on the Federal Government’s inaction on the crisis,” she said.

“I have been contacted by so many Coasties who have struggled to access a GP with many having to wait weeks before they can secure an appointment.

“This problem has persisted for years.

“I know first-hand the frustration of not being able to see a GP or find one.

“After two of my GPs retired, I haven’t had a GP for over a year simply because of the shortage.

“I know just how frustrating it is for so many locals who want and need a GP who is familiar with their history and can follow their developments.”

Terry Collins