MEDICAL practices on the Mornington Peninsula have been turning away new patients as they struggle with staff shortages and bureaucratic delays in recruiting overseas doctors.
A Senate inquiry, sitting in Frankston, has heard how practices faced frustrating hurdles in getting the paperwork completed for overseas doctors recruited to work in many priority areas Australia, including the peninsula.
This is despite an expected mass early retirement of doctors and nurses after two exhausting years of COVID.
Balnarring Medical Centre’s new UK doctor, Dr Mo Mafunga, arrived in Australia on February 18 – after a 10-month process to confirm her qualifications, get Australian registration and a visa – but she still does not have a provider number and cannot work.
Practice owners Dr Sarah Romilly and her registered nurse husband Simon Spalding are calling on Health and Aged Care Minister. Flinders MP Greg Hunt, to accelerate the process.
Simon Spalding was a witness on Monday 7 March at the Senate inquiry into Provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians, held at Frankston Arts Centre.
“Our local population is growing, we have been advertising for four to five years for more GPs, and the Mornington Peninsula is in a distribution priority area due to the shortage of GPs,” Dr Romily said.
“We tick all the boxes and have recruited a person who has both nursing and medical qualifications, and who has satisfied the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, and the Immigration Department.
“But it has taken months longer than it is supposed to. Our new doctor quit her old job late last year and withdrew her kids from their school before her move to Australia was delayed.
“And now, after arriving here, she will wait a further 12-14 weeks without pay to get a provider number so she can start work. Why? Issuing a new provider number to a local doctor is an almost instantaneous process.”
It is a similar story at Dromana’s Beachside Doctors, where an experienced UK doctor arrived on 16 October last year but did not get a provider number to start work until 31 January. Owner Dr Paul Heathcote says he has not had a holiday for three years.
Dr Romilly has been told by the Health Department that it will look into the experiences of two more UK GPs joining the Balnarring medical centre, to identify roadblocks in the process of overseas recruitment.
Mr Spalding said action was needed urgently.
“The shortage of GPs is affecting many parts of Australia, including newer population growth areas which are not even recognised as a distribution priority area to recruit overseas GPs, due to a lag in the classification process,” he said.
“GPs in the UK are currently being treated like cannon fodder – this a great opportunity for Australia to bring in GPs who are used to a very similar medical system to ours.
“But the process needs to be smarter and faster – to have a doctor travel here and sit idle for 12 to 14 weeks is crazy. Especially after the long process to get to that point. Issuing a provider number to a new doctor should be the easy bit, after they’ve satisfied all the other requirements.
“If the predicted mass exit of retiring doctors and nurses occurs, Australia needs to be prepared, and should learn from the painful experience after we were slow to order vaccines, and rapid antigen tests.”