As the new year begins, Peel GP clinics are waiting on the results of an exceptional circumstances review and senate inquiry to help assist practices in the recruitment of doctors.
Peel Health Hub manager Eleanor Britton is part of a WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) committee fighting to change the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) status.
The DPA policy was designed to address shortfalls of regional GP practices.
But a federal government decision to rezone Mandurah as metropolitan and Pinjarra as outer-metropolitan has made it near-impossible for health service providers to attract and retain doctors.
The DPA exceptional circumstances review will assess patient demographics, absence of services, and changes to the workforce to see whether a clinic should receive support to attract GPs.
Ms Britton, along with others in the working group, submitted an application appealing the Peel region's non-DPA classification on December 5, 2021.
She said it could be a 12 to 16 week process before GP practices see the results of this application.
"It's incredibly difficult for us to attract GPs as not all GPs want to work in a special interest group like mental health or alcohol and drugs," she said.
"It's been really hard with that non-DPA status to address the shortage.
"We need to be able to recruit from across the full field - we don't need restrictions placed on us."
Pinjarra Doctors are now down to two doctors to service a patient base of around 10,000 after not being able to attract GP registrars for the new year.
Pinjarra Doctors managing director Mala Pillay, who submitted an application in November, said she hoped the DPA assessment would give the practice the reprieve it desperately needs.
"The review needs to look at Pinjarra as an entity on its own as doctors will apply to Mandurah not Pinjarra.
"Before we could get staff because we were classed as rural, and rural pathway GPs had to apply our way, but since the DPA status change was made that was taken away from us."
Ms Pillay said eight GPs were given the directive to apply for the Peel region to fill the shortage in the short-term but they all settled in Mandurah, not Pinjarra.
WAPHA general manager Chris Kane said WAPHA and Rural Health West were "hopeful that priority status will be reinstated, allowing for the recruitment of international GPs and other doctors with requirements to work in a DPA".
Senate inquiry looks into shortage
WAPHA also worked with Peel health service providers to create a submission for the senate inquiry into the provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians.
In the submission, WAPHA highlighted the maldistribution of GPs across WA.
"In the absence of adequate local GP services, the demand is shifted to public hospital emergency departments," the report read.
According to WAPHA's submission, in 2020-21 WA's country public hospitals accounted for 38.5 per cent of emergency department presentations, however, only 20.2 per cent of the state's population is in areas served by WA's country health service.
More than half of the presentations were categorised as non-urgent, many of which could be appropriately addressed by a GP in the community setting.
The City of Mandurah and Shire of Murray also provided submissions to the senate inquiry.
Marketing campaign to attract GPs
Through WAPHA the federal government promised $1.1 million to help attract GPs to the region.
Ms Britton said WAPHA would be creating a marketing campaign to attract people to live and work in the region.
"Even if we're successful and can get an appeal for Peel we are still competing against border closures," she said.
"We will do a marketing campaign to show the region is an attractive place for people to live and work and if we can coincide that when borders start to open it might help our shortage.
"You can cross borders pretty quickly with social media."