Doctor shortage critical

RECRUITMENT and retention of doctors is the most pressing issue for the health sector in North West Queensland, according to the new president of the Australian Medical Association, Queensland, Dr Alex Markwell.

"There are seven positions unfilled at the Mount Isa Hospital right now, and more positions that are being filled by locums, and that is a situation under threat from the Newman government," she said.

Dr Markwell said locums (casual replacement doctors) were more expensive than permanent doctors on a whistle-stop tour of the North West.

She met with Mount Isa doctors, the new Hospital and Health Services Board, Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) base and Medicare Local.

"I discussed that (expense) with the new Hospital and Health Services Board and they understand our concerns, and also that it will take some time to recruit permanent staff," she said.

The overwhelming issue for Mount Isa was the recruitment and retention of doctors - both hospital specialists and GPs, Dr Markwell said.

On the positive side, both James Cook University and University of Queensland were carrying out active recruitment processes to entice medical students to ensure there was a strong intake of rural and remote students.

"We know that if you come from a rural and remote area, you are more likely to go back there to work," she said.

"But it is a slow process. We are looking at six years of medical training, then another 10 years of specialist training."

An increasing number of students graduating in Queensland has led to a shortage of intern and training positions for graduates, Dr Markwell said.

"There are enough positions for domestic interns but not for international graduates and it seems crazy to send our international graduates away when we know we will need them further down the track," she said.

She said the Mount Isa region needed to be strategic about choosing people with generalist skills for the hospital.

"Generalist surgeons, generalist physicians, generalist emergency department doctors, and the Rural Generalist program is having great success in Queensland."

As for the shortage of GPs in Mount Isa, nearly every facility west of the divide had difficulty recruiting GPs, Dr Markwell said.

She said Super Clinics were not financially viable.

"They just don't work if they're relying solely on bulk funding to survive; and unless they're bringing in new doctors, they're just poaching the doctors already in town."

She said the Medicare Local model was much more promising.

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