The only doctors’ practice in North Maclean and the surrounding area is at risk of closing down within a few months due to a severe shortage of doctors in the region.
With just one practitioner to treat residents in North Maclean, South Maclean, Stockleigh, Chambers Flat and Munruben, Sun Family Practice has been struggling to cater for the health needs of the community.
Sun Family Practice manager Neeraj Dhiman said zoning changes in 2019 moved North Maclean from a distribution priority area to a “metropolitan” non-DPA,
The zone change has left them unable to recruit more doctors because the Australian Government Department of Health requires international medical graduates to work in a DPA to be eligible for Medicare.
“We have been trying to hire a couple of doctors and GPs, but because the zoning has been changed, they have been unable to work in our practice,” Mrs Dhiman said.
The re-zoning resulted in a significant disadvantage to the community, with Sun Family Practice currently forced to turn down a minimum of seven patients per day.
“We’ve had a couple of patients who’ve said they needed a doctor, and they never got a doctor … then they’ve had to go to the hospital in the emergency because of the sickness.”
Alternatively, residents were often forced to travel around half an hour away to attend other practices.
This created a ripple effect, as doctors elsewhere were burdened with more patients.
“Because there is more burden for other practices as well, there is more waiting time for patients,” Mrs Dhiman said.
“Some of the practices are also doing private billing, and that is really not the best thing for the patients.
“Ours is bulk billed, so the government should be helping us, but I don’t know why they are not supporting us.”
Australian Government Department of Health spokesperson Jayne said that in the most recent DPA update in July 2021, North Maclean was classified as a non-DPA because their GP service levels were greater than 10% above the DPA requirements.
“This mean there are many other communities with lower access to health services, compared with North Maclean, and overseas trained doctors are currently prioritised to those other communities,” she said.
She said the government was committed to improving the health of people living in regional, rural and remote Australia, including North Maclean.
Dr Imran Khurshid at Sun Family Practice works part-time six days a week, and with no other doctors to relieve him he hadn’t been able to take leave from work.
The practice operates from 8:30 am – 1:00pm, which meant patients also had to wait longer to receive their Covid test results.
Mrs Dhiman said despite previous efforts to review the zoning of North Maclean, the government had not supported them.
“We have approached the Department of Health twice since last year,” she said.
“Our application was declined … it was unfortunate.
“Then we applied for an appeal, but even that was not accepted.”
Sun Family Practice has started a new petition to the Delegate of the Minister for Health to re-zone the North Maclean region back to a DPA so they could recruit more doctors to serve more people in the area.
They have 700 signatures and urgently need another 300.
“This time, we have the local community with us,” Mrs Dhiman said.
“We are requesting for them to join hand-in-hand with us.”
You can help with this cause. Sign the petition HERE