Ban on doctors alarms GPs

THE HOWARD Government's recent ruling banning the new recruitment of overseas trained doctors on the Mid-North Coast has left local GP numbers in a parlous state.

The peak body representing GPs, the Mid-North Coast Division of General Practice (MNCDGP), warns a crisis is looming as the number of GPs on the North Coast fails to keep pace with population growth.

The MNCDGP's chief executive officer, Dr David Ellis, said the Division had previously been able to recruit overseas trained GPs under the Commonwealth's District of Workforce Shortage program.

"Now we've discovered we've lost five places for this area that we thought we would have in 2005," Dr Ellis said.

"Anyone without a GP already realises how difficult it is to get in to see a doctor, particularly at peak tourist times such as school holidays and over summer."

Dr Ellis said that in recent years, two-thirds of new doctors who had moved to Coffs Harbour alone had been overseas trained, with an even higher proportion in areas like Grafton.

"Without these doctors coming in, we are really going to go backwards," he said.

"Many GPs have closed off their books to new patients.

"The end result is that people's access to services will suffer and they will have an increasingly long wait to see a doctor."

The shortage will inevitably be reflected in greater pressure on accident and emergency services at North Coast hospitals.

And in what amounts to a double whammy, Dr Ellis said the Commonwealth's refusal to sanction the recruitment of overseas-trained GPs also threatens the region's eligibility for the State Government's similar Area of Need program.

He said the reason for the Commonwealth's refusal was not clear.

"The program is designed to put doctors into areas with the greatest need," Dr Ellis said.

"...?We have no less need now than we did six months ago."

Ulmarra and Grafton are serviced by the MNCDGP.

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