Women are particularly vulnerable under Tasmania's "stressed" regional healthcare system, with long wait times, high turnover of locum doctors, and lack of childcare impeding access, a Senate inquiry has been told.
Women's Health Tasmania chief executive Jo Flanagan says there are layers of social issues stopping women - particularly those living with chronic illness or disability - from seeing a GP.
"They're probably living on very low income, so you have cost issues and transport issues and they're living in remote locations that are under-serviced in terms of infrastructure," Ms Flanagan told the inquiry, sitting in Launceston on Monday.
"There's lack of childcare, so it's probably very difficult to get there without the children.
"Then when you get into a GP clinic, there's a sign up saying: 'limit your questions to two'. So women are triaging their own issues.
"They're selecting which one they'll talk to the GP about, and they're more likely to talk about ingrown toenails than the mental health problems they're dealing with."
Deputy chief executive Lucy Shannon said there is a high turnover of locum doctors in regional Tasmania, making it harder for women to build trust.
"We've heard from a number of women that their GP was not equipped to have really important conversations with them," Ms Shannon said.
"And this is a problem because it can mean women are less likely to trust their GP, to share with them the issues they're experiencing, and to go back to the GP when they have problems.
"And because we've got such limited availability of GPs, women can't really vote with their feet. It's not a simple process to just find another GP, who does listen or who they you can have a good relationship with."
The inquiry into GP and primary healthcare services in regional and rural Australia was told many practices cannot take on new patients, and there can be a six-week wait for appointments.
Dr Emil Djakic, a GP in Ulverstone, said the "stressed" healthcare system in regional Tasmania is exacerbated by a growing population.
"Migration to the area, particularly of what I consider to be 'urban refugees' seeking more affordable housing, has brought a significant proportion of citizens carrying substantial burdens of chronic disease, further challenging our general practice capacity," Dr Djakic said.
Launceston GP, Dr Jerome Muir Wilson, said the healthcare sector could look to the mining industry for inspiration in luring staff to the bush, by subsidising housing, children's schooling and travel costs.
"In general practices in rural areas ... you've got to have a really big carrot."
The inquiry will next sit in Whyalla, South Australia, on March 1.
Australian Associated Press
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