$100k plan to help rural town find doctors
A MINING company has come up with a $100,000 plan to help recruit GPs to Clermont.
The town's hospital has been without a permanent doctor for 11 months and despite months of advertising, Mackay Hospital and Health Service is no closer to filling two vacant positions.
But mining company Glencore might have the answer - or at least part of it.
Clermont4Doctors is their $100,000 plan to help address the town's chronic lack of general practitioners.
While the situation has eased since Dr Sarah McLay opened her private practice in Clermont in early September, there is still a dire need for hospital doctors and more GPs.
Glencore, working with the community and health professionals, proposes providing funding for an administrator and packages of social and other support services designed to help new doctors, and their families, in the move to Clermont.
A few years ago, Glencore helped spearhead a campaign to draw doctors to the New South Wales town of Mudgee with Mudgee4Doctors.
Glencore's Clermont open cut mine operations manager Mick Charles said residents in Mudgee had been waiting up to three weeks to see a doctor or travelling hundreds of kilometres to find one.
"In partnership with the community and local medical centres, we put together a five-year program that successfully brought 11 new doctors to the town," he said.
"We've been discussing similar options with Clermont's community leaders, Queensland Health and private practitioners in the hope that we can bring in more expertise to boost existing medical services and address an enormous community need.
"There are challenges ahead, as is the case for other regional towns across Queensland, but as a member of the local community we wanted to do everything possible to help address this problem and we've committed to provide $100,000 to get the Clermont4Doctors program started."
In 2015 the program won the Community Award at the NSW Mining HSEC Awards.
"At the most recent meeting we discussed the possibility of Mackay HHS recruiting a doctor to work solely in the Multi Purpose Health Service and not in general practice," she said.
"The meeting was supportive of this new model and interested in exploring ways the community could be involved in promoting Clermont to encourage doctors to work in the town, particularly in general practice."
Until a long-term model can be put in place, the health service will continue to engage locum doctors for the hospital and GP clinic.
"The HHS is also working with recruitment agencies to try and engage the same locum medical officers where possible to ensure continuity of care for the residents of Clermont," Ms Whitehead said.
Community member Margaret Finger said with a large section of the population made up of fly-in, fly-out miners and transient grey nomads, it was not just the permanent population of 3030 that needed to be cared for.
"At our winter peak season, an average of 750 grey nomads have a daily stay in our town for five months of the year. These figures do not include the number of caravanners who camp on the side of the roads," she said.
"Clermont services two mines, Glencore Clermont Coal and Blair Athol. There is a FIFO work camp, which houses 450 miners."
A Clermont action group sent letters regarding the situation to 12 government ministers but received only two replies.
"The Queensland Health Minister (Dr Steven Miles) didn't bother to reply," Ms Finger said.
"It is undoubtedly a situation with underlying problems, but we feel the first step will be for Queensland Health and the Mackay regional health board to accept there is a serious problem and then work to resolve it."
Dr Miles said recruiting and retaining doctors in the bush was challenging.
"By far the biggest issue for healthcare in the regions remains people's access to a GP, a Federal Government responsibility," he said.
"GP access is vital to proper primary healthcare.
"We are seeing increasing pressure on our emergency departments because people have reduced access to GPs - especially in the regions.
"The Federal Government needs to do more to ensure every community has access to an affordable GP."