Figures show extent of doctor shortage

Daryna ZadvirnaNarrogin Observer
Narrogin Health Service.
Camera IconNarrogin Health Service. Credit: Pictures: Daryna Zadvirna, Daryna Zadvirna

Damning data revealed in State Parliament last week shows Narrogin has been hit hard by the doctor shortage in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions.

Statistics received by Nationals WA health spokesman Martin Aldridge showed no GPs were available on 174 occasions across hospital sites at Narrogin, Katanning and Merredin in the 2018-19 financial year.

Over the same period, 415 patients triaged at the hospitals were classified at an Australasian Triage Scale category of three or less, meaning they required medical assessment and treatment within 30 minutes.

Seven of those were classified ATS one, meaning they required immediate treatment — usually resuscitation — with no doctors there to assist.

Narrogin accounted for more than half of those ATS one presentations.

Narrogin grandmother Gwenda Midsem said she was shocked and disappointed to learn there was no GP on shift when she took her 11-year-old granddaughter Trinity to the Narrogin Health Service with a leg injury earlier this month.

Ms Midsem said they got to the hospital about 2.30pm and were not seen by a doctor until 8.30pm, when the locum started their shift.

According to Ms Midsem, she was then told her granddaughter had a fracture and was given a referral appointment for a fracture clinic in a week’s time.

“I thought ‘she can’t stay in a half-cast for a week, something’s not right’, because the next day Trinity was still in a lot of pain,” she said.

“So we took her to the Perth Children’s Hospital and they said she actually had two breaks.” Ms Midsem said she wished she had taken her granddaughter to Perth straight away.

“There were two X-rays taken ... (the NHS doctor) couldn’t read either of them and had to send them to an online doctor in Perth anyway,” she said.

Ms Midsem praised the nurses and said they handled the situation very well.

“But it’s just not fair on them, they have to cop all the abuse from angry patients waiting around,” she said.

“Narrogin is one of the major hospitals for all the little towns — there needs to be a doctor there at all times.”

A WA Country Health Service spokeswoman said all patients at NHS were triaged and cared for in accordance with their presentation.

“In circumstances where a child presents to any WACHS site, it is not uncommon for the organisation to work in conjunction with specialist paediatricians at PCH, particularly when it comes to injuries that may involve a fracture or break of a bone,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Aldridge said inadequate funding and a lack of ideas to attract and retain doctors had left hospitals in the region seriously exposed.

“Merredin, Narrogin and Katanning hospitals are considered hub hospitals, based around regional centres and supporting nearby smaller hospitals with a higher level of care and capability,” he said.

“The current doctor shortage is an absolute indictment on the management of our regional health system by the Premier and health minister.”

According to Rural Health West, there are 109 GP vacancies in regional WA and a need for a further 31 locum GPs.

Roe MP Peter Rundle said the McGowan Government’s response to the State’s growing regional health needs was appalling.

“Many country communities are paying dearly to attract and retain GPs, with many smaller towns not having access to a GP at all,” he said.

“Meanwhile, public health workers can’t continue working exhausting hours to try and maintain some level of service, but they will eventually reach breaking point.”

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