A Pinjarra health service provider is pleading with the federal government to change a policy, which has already seen them lose 700 appointments weekly as GPs continue to be pushed out of the region.
A decision in 2019 to rezone the Peel region as outer-metropolitan, instead of rural, has made it near-impossible for GP practices to attract and retain doctors.
When the Mail published an article about Murray Street clinic, Pinjarra Doctors struggling to attract GP registrars due to this policy change the owners hoped for a solution.
In the month since covering this issue, Pinjarra Doctors had a meeting with the Federal Department of Health and received an exemption to keep on GP registrars that qualified in 2021 in the Peel region.
However, Pinjarra Doctors managing director Mala Pillay said the exemption came too late.
"Our efforts in lobbying this issue with the government has generated some positive results for the GP's in Mandurah, which we are grateful for but has done nothing to rescue us from our already current crisis," she said.
"As time is a constraint, this comes as no short-term solution for Pinjarra Doctors as all our registrar's that have trained with us have secured placements in Perth. This reduces our full-time workers to 3.5, which will further decrease to 2.5, if the extension to take on new registrars in January 2022 is not approved as soon as possible by the Department of Health.
"Should this extension for training registrars not be granted soon then it will be almost impossible to recruit and retain any doctors in less than five months. Finding the registrars at such short notice will pose a challenge."
We want to reassure our patients that our two principal doctors will soldier on and continue to work extended hours as they have been for years to provide a service to as many patients of ours as they can.Mala Pillay
A Federal Health spokesperson said additional funding and assistance had been offered to the Peel region to attract GPs.
"The Department has offered additional funding to the South Perth Primary Health Network (PHN) through the GP incentives fund to support activities to recruit and attract GPs to the region," the spokesperson said.
"The Department is also working with WA General Practice Education and Training to identify solutions, including supporting registrars to remain in the region to finalise their GP training."
Canning MP Andrew Hastie, who has been lobbying to safeguard the future of Pinjarra Doctors, said the Health Department was providing a range of supports to the clinic.
"Pinjarra Doctors provide an important service to Pinjarra and the wider region - I continue to follow their case closely," he said.
"Distribution Priority Area (DPA) status is informed by an independent expert group that advises the government on rural health workforce. The objective is to help get doctors to the places across Australia that need them most. The group has been asked to look at the status of Pinjarra and the needs of our region again in the coming months."
As a private practice, Ms Pillay said Pinjarra Doctors is yet to see any extra funding. Without a long-term solution, she said the practice would only be left with two full-time doctors by the end of the year.
"Losing four doctors - 34 to 36 appointments each per day - means Pinjarra Doctors has lost approximately 700 appointments per week," she said.
"That's 700 patients having to look elsewhere to have their health care needs met but most likely flooding the Peel emergency department as most of the practices are booked out for on the day appointments as Mandurah GPs suffer the same predicament.
"We want to reassure our patients that our two principal doctors, Dr Hennie and Dr Hannah, will soldier on and continue to work extended hours as they have been for years to provide a service to as many patients of ours as they can."
According to a Federal Health spokesperson, Pinjarra have a higher level of medical care compared to rural areas.
However, Ms Pillay said this wasn't the case and the federal government needed to "define the town for what it rightly is - rural" otherwise the region would continue to see a workforce shortage.
"We firmly believe that if Pinjarra were to be reinstated as both Modified Monash Model (MMM) 2 and a DPA it would be the ultimate, more permanent resolution we need," she said.
"With MMM2 and DPA reinstated, doctors on a moratorium and GP registrars will be able to train while working, then stay on in our town, it is a more viable option to build on the workforce.
"We will be able to establish a longer-term GP workforce, to sustain the health care service and continue the stability of high-quality care we provide to our community."