Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News
The SA Government’s Limestone Coast Local Health Network spent $6.2 million on locum doctors in 2020-21.
And it has now hired an international locum agency to fill Naracoorte hospital’s emergency roster with medical officers, not locals.
Across the state it spent $32m on locums, with Mount Gambier Hospital soaking up the lion’s share of costs.
With locums paid up to $3000 for 12 hour shifts, Mount Gambier had 4638 locum days in 2020-21.
When there were no emergency doctors available at Naracoorte, the government sent our district’s patients to Mount Gambier.
Crippled by the escalating rural doctor crisis, for 27 days during 2020-21 the government left the Naracoorte Hospital without an on-call doctor or locum.
Similarly, Penola Hospital operated without a doctor for 21 days and Bordertown had no emergency doctor for 4.5 days.
Penola’s emergency department has remained closed since November last year.
The Millicent Hospital had its services slashed a decade ago and is reliant on a locum contract.
The spending of taxpayer funds on locums results from a rural doctor crisis – exacerbated by the failure of the SA Government to re-negotiate contracts with local country GPs Statewide.
The contracts expired on November 30, 2020, leaving SA’s rural doctors, including Naracoorte, without the ability to attract, train and retain a new generation of rural doctors.
The reported SA Health statistics do not yet involve this year’s locum costs.
Pressure on our rural doctors intensified when their communities were suddenly exposed to COVID-19 in November last year.
At least 80 people from around the region have since been hospitalised as a result of COVID-19, and the number of SE deaths has yet to be disclosed.
Against a background of the Government finally signing agreements with rural doctors, The News asked the SA Health media team if rosters at Naracoorte hospital were being filled by local doctors.
And, how many days this month and next month were there no emergency doctors on duty?
The News also asked how much the State Government had spent on locums to service the emergency departments of Naracoorte and Bordertown Hospitals this year.
The team replied with a statement attributable to Limestone Coast Local Health Network which is chaired by Mount Gambier’s Grant King.
“The Naracoorte Hospital emergency department (ED) continues to operate under the Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) and provide emergency care to patients in the community,” the statement says.
“The medical roster is currently fully filled by experienced medical officers and we anticipate full medical coverage to be sustained throughout this month.
“There have been no changes to the model of care at Naracoorte Hospital ED and staff will continue to provide the same level of high quality emergency care to patients at a local level.
“International Medical Recruitment (IMR) have been contracted to source doctors to participate in the roster.
“And this new arrangement will benefit local medical practices by taking the pressure off of them to cover the roster.
“Locums from Kincraig Medical Clinic and Naracoorte General Practice will still be able to continue to participate in the roster.
“And we would like to reassure the community that emergency services will always be available at Naracoorte Hospital.”
The media team said as “background”, in January 2022, Kincraig Medical Clinic informed LCLHN that it was unable to sustain cover for the emergency roster.
“IMR was contracted to secure emergency roster cover, and both Kincraig Medical Centre and Naracoorte General Practice have been approached by IMR to participate in the roster.”
This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News.