Obstetrician needed to fill gap in public system

THE retirement of one of Grafton's two obstetrician and gynaecologists has left a hole in the public health sector that is worrying some expectant mums.

Private OG specialist Dr Arvind Dougall exited the workforce in mid-January, which saw Grafton Base Hospital's only staff specialist, Dr Marilyn Clarke, move into his private practice to give general practitioners a referral pathway for advice.

But the compromise was that it left the Grafton Base Hospital, and expectant mums, without a way to have local appointments bulk-billed.

Northern NSW Local Health District acting CEO Annette Symes acknowledged there may be some inconvenience to patients until a new specialist was found.

"The GBH is currently in the process of recruiting an O&G specialist and during this process there will unfortunately be limited options available for GPs in which to refer patients," she said.

"The GBH has however engaged a temporary doctor, commencing (next month), who GPs will be able to refer patients to."

Ms Symes said Grafton Base Hospital continued to provide an emergency obstetrics and gynaecology service, and noted GBH Maternity Unit midwives continued to run clinics for low-risk pregnant women.

Speaking to The Daily Examiner last week, Dr Clarke said she could understand why the changes had left people unhappy.

"Patients were used to seeing me before for free and now that choice has been taken away I guess people are upset, but prior to me coming to Grafton (in 2012) there had never been a hospital OG clinic," Dr Clarke said.

"If they can't afford to see me the only option in this area for public hospital-run care is Lismore as far as I'm aware."

But if it is a viable option for patients to see her privately, Dr Clarke said she would not turn anyone away.

"The recent changes to the sector appeared to have caused some confusion in the community," she said.

"If the patient is low-risk they can go through midwife clinic which is free for patients but unfortunately if high risk they will need to see me at some point.

"I don't think we're doing too badly with meeting the load at the moment, but we could still do with another one, even for the sake of giving patients a choice."

Dr Clarke said the area was definitely in need of at least one extra OG to help share the load, and she could understand why some women might be upset.

The current wait time for a non urgent gynaecologist appointment is about six months.

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