Senate inquiry looks into shortage of GPs in Peel

Investigation: WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane and Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth both highlighted the struggles of Peel practices. Photos: Supplied.
Investigation: WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane and Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth both highlighted the struggles of Peel practices. Photos: Supplied.

As a Federal Senate inquiry looks into the shortage of general practitioners, Peel GPs continue to struggle to attract staff.

The inquiry into the provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians is accepting submissions, but is not scheduled to turn in its report until next year.

That is too long to wait for some practices, with WA Primary Health Alliance strategy and engagement general manager Chris Kane saying many clinics are already experiencing shortages and struggling to deliver services.

"WAPHA is aware that general practices in the Peel region are under pressure, due to recruitment and other challenges which impact their ability to provide care for their patients and, in some case, their viability as a practice," she said.

"We know of one practice currently advertising for six doctors or locums. They need at least two full-time equivalent GPs to remain financially viable after February 2022."

Read more on the Peel GP shortage:

WAPHA is currently working with Peel health service providers to "coordinate the submission and provide data to demonstrate local need".

The inquiry will look into the Distribution Priority Areas (DPA) system, which identifies locations where people struggle to access doctors.

Currently, Mandurah is zoned as metropolitan and Pinjarra as outer-metropolitan, which has made it near-impossible for health service providers in the region to attract and retain doctors.

The classification means all practices in the Peel region can no longer use rural pathway GP registrars - doctors in training who are required to spend 18 months in rural regions, a policy designed to address shortfalls of doctors in rural areas.

This saw Murray Street practice, Pinjarra Doctors drop from eight doctors to only two to service a patient base of around 10,000.

Read more on the Peel GP shortage:

Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth, who has made a submission to the Senate inquiry, said grouping in Pinjarra with the Perth CBD and Mandurah was unfair.

"The Shire of Murray believes that it is unfair that Pinjarra, a town of only 4,500 people, 85 kilometres from the Perth CBD, is zoned within the Perth metropolitan boundary," he said.

"As the boundary excludes Pinjarra from sourcing overseas doctors, Pinjarra relies on the pool of unrestricted doctors, the majority of whom continue to demonstrate a preference for living and working close to our capital city and Mandurah.

We know of one practice currently advertising for six doctors or locums.

WAPHA strategy and engagement manager Chris Kane

"It also should be noted that Pinjarra doctors' practices service a wider rural catchment with clients travelling from Waroona, Dwellingup, Coolup and Lake Clifton.

"A recently announced incentivisation scheme, had minimal effect for Pinjarra as the same incentives were offered for much bigger population bases, including Mandurah which has a population of 85,000."

In the submission, the Shire of Murray requested Pinjarra receive DPA status and the current incentives be more targeted to Pinjarra instead of the Peel region as a whole.

The City of Mandurah will also be providing a submission to the Senate inquiry shortly.

According to a spokesperson, the City is currently working with local community support networks to understand the impact the DPA classification is having in Mandurah.