A SHORTAGE of doctors in Murray Bridge and surrounding districts is putting pressure on an already understaffed service, according to Murray Bridge doctors.
Bridge Clinic doctor and Rural Doctors of Australia vice president Peter Rischbieth said the situation was dire.
“The medical workforce in the region is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
“In our own patch we are trying to put more bums on seats.”
The issue intensified this year after the number of obstetricians giving pre-natal care and delivering 280 babies born annually at the Murray Bridge hospital fell from eight to four, with only two qualified to perform caesarean sections.
Dr Rischbieth said doctors at Bridge Clinic were under pressure; with most arriving before 7.30am, working late and then having to juggle on-call at the hospital and consult with hospital patients on weekends.
“The doctors are still there late each day - if you go past Bridge Clinic most nights at about 7pm you will see the car park is still full,” he said. In fact, during the past three months most Bridge Clinic doctors have been on-call for the hospital every second weekend despite the national safe work roster recommendation of no more than one weekend a month.
One of the two obstetricians qualified to perform caesarean sections remains on-call between 18 and 20 days each month.
A recent change to the industrial contract between private doctors offering out of hours services to regional hospitals could help alleviate the exhaustion doctors faced, but could also increase their workloads.
Dr Rischbieth said before the new contract was penned, doctors would work all week, visit patients in hospital on weekends, cover the on-call roster and then be back ready for work on Monday morning.
“In the new industrial contract we’ve been offered a safe work hours payment which means we can finally ask for time off the next day if we need it,” he said.
“But if we take the time off, patients either miss out on their appointments or another doctor will have to take on extra patients.”
Dr Rischbieth said the problem of staff shortages and community and hospital needs were discussed at a meeting he attended last week with Country Health chief executive officer Belinda Moyes and Health Minister John Hill.
“The problem is there is not enough work at most of the regional hospitals to have salaried doctors employed,” he said.
“At this point, Minister Hill is looking at site specific solutions.”
Bridge Clinic doctor Martin Altmann said attracting new doctors, especially those with extra qualifications, was not a problem isolated to the Murraylands.
“There is a general shortage of rural GPs but especially doctors with specialty training in the obstetric or anaesthetic areas,” he said.
“We are doing a lot of training and teaching hoping it will help in the long run.”
Dr Altmann said positive initiatives like the Flinders Rural Doctors program increased the chance of getting students to consider rural medicine by giving them early exposure.