A shortage of general practitioners in Ballarat is increasing pressure on the Ballarat Base Hospital emergency department, Ballarat Health Services’ acting chief executive says.
Data shows the emergency department experienced an 8.4 per cent increase in patients in December 2018 compared to December 2017.
"Normally winter is the busiest time for public emergency departments but the months of October, November and December have actually been busier than the winter months which is really quite unusual,” acting chief executive Ben Kelly said.
Ballarat resident Lynda Goodale has been to the Ballarat Base Hospital’s emergency department twice in the last six months after failing to secure an appointment with a general practitioner.
We just ask they be patient because there is a lot of demand coming through the emergency department and patients will be prioritised based on their illness.Ben Kelly, Ballarat Health Services
In September she waited three hours at a medical centre before being sent to the emergency department where she had to wait another five hours with a torn retina.
When she saw a doctor after eight hours of waiting she was told she needed urgent surgery on her eye the next morning or she could risk losing her sight.
In another instance two weeks ago she attended Eureka Medical Centre in the hope of seeing a doctor to look at a painful spider bite.
She was told there were no doctors working at the centre at the time, then went to the emergency department to be told there was a six hour wait, before she made the decision to go home and risk waiting to see a general practitioner the next morning.
When she did see a doctor in the morning she was told the bite was dangerous and was put on four antibiotics a day.
On both instances Ms Goodale said she noticed people in the hospital emergency department who would normally have seen a general practitioner.
“There was a boy there with a bean bag bean inside his ear. Usually a doctor could have removed that but they couldn’t find a general practitioner to do it, so he waited four hours in emergency,” she said.
Ms Goodale said she has tried to sign up with a number of clinics in Ballarat who told her she there were no free appointments for a week, so she instead decided to wait for hours at Eureka Medical Centre.
“There was a lady there with a baby this week who was waiting for three and a half hours before she walked out without seeing a doctor,” she said.
“The baby would have been three months old. The child shouldn’t have to wait that long for a doctor.”
The Department of Health told The Courier in a statement on January 13 it had requested the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria investigate any issues with general practitioners in Ballarat.
There are currently 48 vacancies for general practitioners, including locum positions, in Western Victoria, according to the Rural Workforce Agency.
Mr Kelly said more general practitioners would help relieve the demand on the Ballarat Base Hospital emergency department.
“The demand is a challenge for us no doubt. We continually look to see how we can ensure adequate patient flow to enable access and there are days which are more challenging than others,” he said.
“Those times the public can be found to be waiting a little longer than we or they would like, but we continue to manage the demand based on the severity of the illness.
“We look forward to the redevelopment to deliver a brand new and expanded emergency department in the years to come. We need to work through strategy in the shorter term to ensure we can keep up with that demand.”
Mr Kelly said residents who can not see a general practitioner and have explored all other options were welcome to visit the emergency department.
“We just ask they be patient because there is a lot of demand coming through the emergency department and patients will be prioritised based on their illness,” he said.