As medical services in rural areas continue to struggle to keep up with demand, one community has had enough.
Gulgong's Multi Purpose Service (MPS) has been without a Doctor for more than two months after a local VMO contract was not renewed with the existing Doctor.
The ongoing absence of a doctor for Gulgong comes after an announcement in July that Gulgong Medical Service would 'adapt' its services after a Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) contract was not renewed and a GP in Coolah leaving in June when he was unhappy with changed contract conditions.
Gulgong resident Sharelle Fellows, along with another Gulgong resident Kathryn Pearson fed up with the lack of these critical services, decided to distribute both a digital and then a paper petition calling the NSW Health Minister to appoint a doctor as a matter of urgency.
To date, the petitions have so far more than 2000 signatures across both the paper and digital with comments from signatories in support of the call.
The petition has been placed around Gulgong in front of businesses in the CBD.
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'As an ex-resident I'm signing because in the case of an emergency telehealth is not good enough. Gulgong MPS needs a doctor, it could be the difference between life and death.' wrote one person who signed the change.org petition.
Currently if you present to Gulgong MPS you are likely going to experience a telehealth scenario before being transported to Mudgee or Dubbo Hospital if further treatment is needed.
The Mudgee Guardian reached out to the office of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. A spokesperson for the Western NSW Local Health District said recruitment is a challenge nationwide, regardless of any financial incentives.
"The Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) has been, and continues to, actively recruit for Visiting Medical Officer VMO roles at Gulgong Multi-Purpose Service (MPS)," the spokesperson said.
"Recruiting health professionals to regional, rural and remote areas is a challenge nationwide and not just confined to our region, regardless of financial incentives.
As an ex-resident I'm signing because in the case of an emergency telehealth is not good enough. Gulgong MPS needs a doctor, it could be the difference between life and death.
"The District welcomes expressions of interest or applications from any General Practitioner, including those at the Gulgong Medical Centre. While there has been some recent interest, these discussions have been hampered by the current COVID-19 restrictions.
"The town continues to have access to General Practitioners in the community, and clinical staff at the Gulgong MPS are supported by a range of innovative telehealth services that have proven successful in supporting rural health services, including at sites larger than Gulgong. Aged care residents at Gulgong MPS will continue to receive care from their nominated GP.
"The WNSWLHD will continue to work with the Commonwealth Government's Primary Healthcare Network, Council and other local organisations to develop opportunities to attract more general practice services to Gulgong.
"The District works closely with NSW Ambulance to ensure that models of care in place are most appropriate to meet patients' needs."
The spokesperson also stressed that according to a recent Bureau of Health Information report, patients were overwhelmingly happy with the care they received at Gulgong MPS.
"The 2019/20 budget for the Gulgong MPS is more than $3 million. In the latest Bureau of Health Information quarterly report for the period April-June 2020, more than 95 per cent of admitted patients at Gulgong MPS rated their care as excellent or good," the spokesperson said.
It's worth noting, however that the latest report ends in June this year, roughly the same time it's believed the VMO contract was not renewed by Western NSW Health.
Since 2012, the NSW Health workforce in rural and regional areas alone has increased by more than 20 per cent to 43,928.
That followed a similar result in Coolah in June when one of the town's two GPs, Dr Abbas Haghshenas chose to leave, forcing the closure of Coolah's medical centre. This departure came too after a contract negotiation between Western NSW Health and Dr Abbas, the terms of which he was unhappy with.
In July, the Mudgee Guardian reached out to State Member for Dubbo, Dugald Saunders for comment on the Gulgong situation.
"I have been in regular contact with the Western NSW Local Health District about the situation at the Gulgong Multi Purpose Service (MPS), and I understand fully why there is some level of concern within the community because health is the most important thing we have," Mr Saunders said.
"This is an operational matter and the LHD is working very hard to resolve it as soon as possible."
This week, Saunders said he has been in Gulgong again, speaking with everybody involved and is confident a solution can be found that benefits everybody regarding a VMO contract.
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