New doctor at Ochre Health Dr Hemantha Gamage.
New doctor at Ochre Health Dr Hemantha Gamage. Adam Hourigan

Books re-open to patients as doctor shortages addressed

WITH a host of new doctors lined up and books once more open to new patients, things are looking up for Grafton's GP Super Clinic.

And it wouldn't have been possible without the reinstatement of Grafton's District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) status.

DWS is a mechanism used to achieve an equitable distribution of medical services across Australia by restricting the flow of overseas trained general practitioners to the areas that need it most, reviewed every February by the Federal Government.

Last year, the status was taken from the Clarence Valley, which limited practices' pool of doctors and resulted in many practices having to close their doors to new patients.

Ochre Health's GP Super Clinic practice manager Carol Pachos said at the end of last year alone, she saw about seven GP places advertised in Grafton.

"I came here about six months ago and I'm sure we're not unique, but I was always picking up the phone and saying I'm sorry, you'll need to (try another practice) or go to the hospital," she said.

Now that the Clarence Valley has been put back on the list, the super clinic manager has wasted no time filling the shortage.

Dr Hemantha Gamage was the first GP to arrive thanks to the DWS in March. Dr Ali Sharif is scheduled to take appointments from next month and Dr Mark Bell is lined up to start next February.

"We attracted Dr Gamage to work at our practice before DWS status was allocated to our area, but he was only able to stay for a short period," Ms Pachos said.

"Now with DWS status he will be able to stay for up to four years if he so chooses to do so.

"As a result our books are open for the first time in 12 months and we are able to see new patients at our practice. It's so wonderful for us to be able to say, 'yes I can help'."

The positive flow-on effects also seem to be extending to the business.

"Patient numbers each week are increasing as our books are open," she said. "Despite this, we're making sure the type of health care we gave beforehand will still be delivered even though we're growing."

The ongoing impacts could also be seen in the fact that the growing GP workforce had spurred more employment enquiries from GPs not impacted by the DWS, she said.

"With new patients coming and our existing GPs being alleviated from acute pressure in regard to patient workload we are now seeing a possible boost to our GP numbers as a result."

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