Being able to rely on your general practitioner to be there when you need them is something many of us take for granted.
But one new Ballarat resident with a ongoing medical condition has struggled to find a GP in town taking new patients.
After moving from Sydney in September, 25-year-old school teacher Liz Barnott was hoping to find a GP who she could trust to learn her history and manage her thyroid condition long-term.
But after calling around medical practices in Ballarat, she was repeatedly told in December they were not accepting new patients, due to an already “heavy influx of patients”.
“I called five and they all said the same thing, telling me to go to a walk-in clinic,” she said.
“Which is what I ended up doing, but that was two hours waiting out of my day, and it’s a shame because I would like a GP I can be stable with … I can’t just see a different GP every time.”
They were all saying: go to a walk-in medical centre. They couldn't give me an answer about who would be accepting new patients.New Ballarat resident Liz Barnott
In one instance, Ms Barnott finally secured an appointment with a GP, only to be called the next day and told it was a “mistake”.
“I felt quite dismissed,” she said. “It means I’m going to have to wait a few months to get myself settled.
“I acknowledge clinics are busy, but we need to somehow find a way to make it more accessible, maybe relaxing the rules on no new patients, or having someone triage why you’re coming to the clinic.”
The Rural Workforce Agency Victoria, which lists vacancies for regional health jobs, shows that 90 per cent of current openings in Western Victoria are for general practitioners, including locums and trainees.
Late last year, Australian Medical Association Victoria president Associate Professor Julian Rait told The Courier a lack of specialists, and a shortage of GPs, are among the key priorities AMA Victoria has identified around Ballarat and regional Victoria.
“We have very good public hospitals and good infrastructure in regional towns but the problem, the challenge, is attracting and retaining staff,” he said.
Assoc Prof Rait said a shortage of GPs in regional areas was contributing to poor health outcomes among regional Victorians.
“What is a real concern to the AMA is that life expectancy is going backwards in parts of regional Victoria, which is almost unprecedented. We are seeing things decline particularly for rural women with heart disease, arthritis, cancer, obstetrics, anxiety and depression … and the shortage of GPS probably contributes to those.”
It comes as City of Ballarat deals with a number of planing applications for GP and allied health clinic developments in the region.