'It would be criminal': Peel Health Hub's plea for more doctors

Peel Health Hub lead care coordinator Paul Reilly, GP Down South regional manager Denise Puddick, and GP Down South representative Eleanor Britton. Photo: Claire Sadler.
Peel Health Hub lead care coordinator Paul Reilly, GP Down South regional manager Denise Puddick, and GP Down South representative Eleanor Britton. Photo: Claire Sadler.

A new policy is making it more difficult for Mandurah medical services to attract GPs.

The federal distribution priority area policy was designed to address shortfalls of doctors in the bush.

Previously a GP-to-population ratio determined which areas were most in need of more GPs and overseas doctors could work in these areas easier than applying for metropolitan areas.

The new system factors in the gender, age and socioeconomic status of patients living in GP catchments.

Mandurah practices such as the Peel Health Hub and the Nidjalla Waangan Mia Health Centre say it has resulted in them no longer being able to recruit the doctors they need to meet the growing youth mental health crisis in the region.

GPs we have working in here are ones that specialise in mental health, drug and alcohol issues so we actually need to have that full pool to enable us to have the opportunity to attract the GPs we need.

GP Down South representative Eleanor Britton

A Federal Department of Health spokesperson has defended the policy, saying the Mandurah GP catchment currently has a population-to-GP ratio bigger than the national average.

But GP Down South representative Eleanor Britton said the Peel Health Hub, which brings nine services together under one roof, needed to attract GPs outside the catchment that specialise in mental health, drug and alcohol issues.

"My frustration is that everybody knows the important work we do here at the Peel Health Hub and the federal government has invested substantial money in the Hub and our vision for this model of care," she said.

"It seems to me counterproductive that we suddenly have a decision made in Canberra that reclassifies this area, which makes it harder for us to attract GPs.

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"GPs we have working in here are ones that specialise in mental health, drug and alcohol issues so we actually need to have that full pool to enable us to have the opportunity to attract the GPs we need.

"What we're really appealing to the federal government for is to give us an exemption in recognition of the difficult work we do here."

Canning MP Andrew Hastie says he is working to get an exemption for the Peel Health Hub and Nidjalla Waangan Mia. Photo: Supplied.

Canning MP Andrew Hastie says he is working to get an exemption for the Peel Health Hub and Nidjalla Waangan Mia. Photo: Supplied.

Canning MP Andrew Hastie said he was concerned about the impact the distribution priority area changes could have on the Mandurah community.

"We've done a lot of work to improve health services in Mandurah and the Peel region over the past few years, so I'm very concerned about the potential impact of the distribution priority area changes on our community," he said.

"I've raised these concerns in Canberra and arranged for members of the federal health department to meet with local doctors, so they can better understand the unique character of our region.

"Time and resources are obviously constrained right now by COVID, but we're working to get an exemption for the Peel Health Hub and Nidjalla Waangan Mia."

Ms Britton said the Hub had filled a gap in services in Mandurah but without an exemption the model of care could fall apart.

"For the model of care to fall over now because of a bureaucratic decision would be criminal," she said.

"It means that we all go back to working in siloed ways potentially rather than the model supported by that early intervention and prevention.

"Our clientele is not the normal clientele that is seen at a general practice and that's why we really feel we need special consideration in helping us recruit GPs."

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GP Down South regional manager Denise Puddick said without the Hub, youth experiencing mental health issues wouldn't be provided the support they need.

"Where do the kids go if they can't come here? They go to the emergency department and that just puts increased pressure on an already buckling emergency system," she said.