Call for action: Whealtbelt doctor shortage headache raised in state parliament

CALL FOR ACTION: Nationals WA leader Mia Davies and health spokesman Martin Aldridge want the state government to address doctor shortages. Photo: Supplied.
CALL FOR ACTION: Nationals WA leader Mia Davies and health spokesman Martin Aldridge want the state government to address doctor shortages. Photo: Supplied.

Wheatbelt hospitals are back in the public focus, with the Nationals calling on the state government to take urgent action to address a doctor shortage across the region.

Parliamentary questions asked by Nationals health spokesman Martin Aldridge show that doctors were in short supply in the emergency departments at Merredin, Narrogin and Katanning hospitals over the last 12 months.

In total, there were 174 occasions across the three hospital sites where there was no doctor available to work.

The parliamentary questions also showed that on seven occasions patients required immediate treatment such as resuscitation, but there was no doctor available to provide help.

Mr Aldridge has squared the blame at the hands of the state government and said a lack of funding and recruitment strategy had left regional emergency departments "seriously exposed."

"Merredin, Narrogin and Katanning hospitals are considered hub hospitals, based around regional centres and supporting nearby smaller hospitals with a higher level of care and capability," he said.

"The current doctor shortage is an absolute indictment on the management of our regional health system by the Premier (Mark McGowan) and Health Minister (Roger Cook).

"They continue to blame the federal government, the former state government and just about everyone except themselves.

"Doctor shortages aren't exclusively a state responsibility, but the state government must take leadership on this issue and do everything within its power to ensure GP vacancies are filled and patients are adequately cared for in emergency departments."

Nationals WA Leader and Member for Central Wheatbelt Mia Davies labelled the government's response to growing regional health needs as "appalling."

"Not only has this government failed to deliver adequate services in emergency departments, they also have no attraction and retention plan for GPs," she said.

"Many country communities are paying dearly to attract and retain GPs, with many smaller towns not having access to a GP at all.

"Meanwhile public health workers can't continue working exhausting hours to try and maintain some level of service - but they will eventually reach breaking point."

A spokesperson for Mr Cook said WA had the lowest rate of GPs per head of population of any state in Australia and as such it was a federal government responsibility to intervene.

"While primary health is the responsibility of the federal government, we know that when people can't access a GP it becomes a state problem - one example is people attending hospital Emergency Departments because they can't get to see a local doctor," the spokesperson said.

"The Minister (Mr Cook) has already raised this issue with the federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt and will continue to lobby the federal government for action and a fair share for WA.

"It's not simply a quick fix of more money or better housing, a range of different policy settings need to be reviewed.

"The Minister wholeheartedly welcomes the National Party joining our efforts in lobbying the federal government for additional measures to help address the shortfall in regional GPs.

"We'd urge all regional MPs, irrespective of the political party they represent, to put politics aside and work together to lobby Canberra for a better deal for WA."