Local doctors defend their efforts

EARLIER this week I offered some criticism against local doctors for refusing to bulk bill and for not activating an after-hours medical service in an effort to help ease the pressure on local emergency departments.

I expected to get a response and yesterday I did, with the president of the Fraser Coast Medical Association, Dr Shaun Rudd, giving me a call to “dispel an urban myth”.

Dr Rudd claimed that lack of bulk billing and limited after-hours medical services had little to do with the present crisis in our hospitals.

“The reason for the emergency department crisis rests with the lack of available beds for patients to be admitted to, not with the number of people walking into the department,” Dr Rudd said.

“The really sick patients who need a hospital bed and are left to wait are the problem and we can’t do anything about that even if they came to our surgeries.

“We have looked at after-hours clinics, and six groups do offer this service now, but they are not heavily used,” he said.

Dr Rudd claimed this was partly because patients realised they were calling out doctors after they had already worked a long day and as such didn’t want to use them. He didn’t believe the cost of $120 for an after-hours consultation was the key, because of the rebate available.

A list of the 29 doctors surgeries in the Fraser Coast region revealed that one third on the list advertised “discretionary bulk billing” and 11 said they were open to new patients.

Three declared clearly that they would bulk bill children and health care cardholders.

Dr Rudd said he would be surprised if anyone was refused bulk billing if they asked for it at any surgery on the Fraser Coast. He did agree, however, that many people would be reticent to ask for it unless it was offered.

Dr Rudd also reminded me that local GPs had rescued the Maryborough Hospital emergency department when it looked like closing because of lack of staff some three to four years ago.

“I can assure you local doctors have gone above and beyond when it comes to looking after the local population and will continue to do so,” he said.

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