Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News
SA Shadow Health Minister Chris Picton has thrown his weight behind Naracoorte’s doctors and country GPs, calling for the State Government to negotiate contracts with them.
Mr Picton has slammed the State Government for wasting taxpayers’ dollars on locums, failing to negotiate and throwing rural doctors and country hospitals into turmoil.
He said there was “no logic behind the government’s refusal to negotiate with regional doctors and come to an arrangement to help retain staff”.
He called on Premier Steven Marshall and Health Minister Stephen Wade to “show some leadership” and help keep country hospitals and medical clinics operating.
Additionally, Mr Picton pledged if he became health minister in seven months – after the March 19, 2022 State Election – he would pump an extra $100m into rural health and Ambulance services.
Mr Picton was speaking in response to issues raised in previous editions of The News regarding expired contracts and the domino effects that was having in Naracoorte and around the state.
He said he hoped the State Government wasn’t closing down some country hospitals and medical clinics by stealth.
“We have a pretty bad situation at the moment,” Mr Picton said.
“The government is not listening to rural and regional doctors about the issues they are facing and the conditions which they need in place to attract and retain additional regional doctors.
“They have put a package to the government, and that has been ignored outright.”
That package included conditions to help attract and retain the next generation of rural doctors as well as remuneration.
“We now have both the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Rural Doctors Association SA (RDASA) saying things are going to get worse, we are going to lose more doctors and that is going to impact the viability of many regional health services.”
Mr Picton said there were more and ore places where the government was having to send locum doctors.
“That’s a very expensive exercise to begin with and it ends up costing taxpayers more for a worse outcome,” he said.
“It also means where there are legitimate needs for locum doctors, they cannot be found.
“There has clearly been an issue in Naracoorte.”
There were between three and five days each month where Naracoorte Hospital was without a doctor.
Mr Picton said there were times when there were no doctors on call at Naracoorte because no locum doctors were available and local doctors “justifiably” needed to have time off.
The Kincraig Medical Clinic can utilise 15 full time doctors, but now only has seven of whom four are trainees requiring supervision.
Of those, three doctors were also required to ﬁll a 24 hour roster at the hospital as well as operate a respiratory clinic.
“It is a real slap in the face for regional communities if the health minister is not even going to front up and talk about this issue for people in areas like Naracoorte who rely on their regional health services,” Mr Picton said.
“The minister is ultimately responsible. He was elected promising he would ﬁx regional health issues, but in fact they have got worse under his watch.
“The least he can do is front up and answer questions.”
Mr Picton said because negotiations with doctors were going nowhere “we are on a slippery slope of more services being lost”.
“If they (doctors) worked in a city practice they could have much more lucrative practices,” he said.
“Doctors who are working in regional areas are doing it for their commitment to their regional communities and their commitment to equitable access to healthcare.”
Mr Picton said the worst outcome was for more and more services to be provided by locums at a huge cost to SA taxpayers.
“There really is a perverse situation where as we lose doctors or doctors pull out of providing services, they are replaced by locums who are costing many, many, multiple times more for providing coverage,” he said.
“So, it ends up costing the taxpayer more when we do lose these doctors.
“Then it creates an imbalance for the rest of the system where we don’t have those locums available when we need them for a temporary replacement for somebody.
“It is unsustainable from both a health system perspective and also from a taxpayer perspective.”
Mr Picton said the $100m that Labor would put into rural health and Ambulance services would come out of the $662m budget the current government had earmarked for an Adelaide CBD basketball stadium.
Health Minister Stephen Wade’s media adviser was contacted for comment but none was received before the deadline for press.
This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 11 August 2021.
Related story: Minister silent as doctors pull out of negotiations.