Local GPs part of study giving rural health a pulse check

Emma TaylorThe West Australian
The new wing opened yesterday.
Camera IconThe new wing opened yesterday. Credit: Laura Grubisa

Emergency health services in the Wheatbelt are being put under the microscope by a Curtin University honours student investigating emergency medical care in regional WA.

Spurred by personal experience, public health student Melanie Roberts is exploring the concerns of regional GPs.

“My partner’s parents live in a rural area and his dad has been having health issues,” Ms Roberts said.

“I’ve just been astounded by how much they struggle with managing his health in the country versus in a metro area.

“You know, if I need to go to the hospital, I just pop to Joondalup or Royal Perth Hospital, but for them they’ll have to see a rural GP who will come in and then disappear, and it’s all a big rigmarole.”

GPs are the front line when it comes to health care in rural WA, with responsibilities in both general practice and the emerg-ency department of the rural hospitals where they work.

The study was commissioned by the WA Country Health Service, and will survey regional GPs to see what can be done to improve their experiences as well as country emergency services.

GPs from hospitals all over the State are taking part, including Boddington, Dumbleyung, Lake Grace and Wagin.

Ms Roberts is expecting the findings to show problems such as workforce shortages, the inability to retain clinical resources, staff burnout, fatigue, occupational violence and professional isolation.

“If you’re a GP in Perth and you have a question, you can just go ask the doctor next door, whereas in regional places, GPs can’t do that, so they do experience a high level of professional isolation,” she said.

Ms Roberts hopes addressing these issues will help with the issue of continuity of care in rural areas.

“There is a decline in rural GPs and a gap in the health equity between rural areas and metro areas,” she said. “Rural areas have a higher rate of injury and chronic disease and have poorer access to primary healthcare services.”

She said she hoped the study would result in awareness around the issues and meaningful change.

“I don’t want to let the rural communities down with this,” she said.

The study will be carried out over the next six months.

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