Wednesday, June 27, 2007

$500,000, And Nobody Wants It

For weeks now, a surgery in country New South Wales has been offering $500,000, in a lump sum payment, to any obstetrician, GP or anaesthetist, who was willing to relocate from the city and get to work.

Even after widespread media coverage, the southern NSW town of Temora hasn't receieved a single application from a "city based or recently qualified doctor". They are looking for a medico from the city, or one fresh out of med school, so they will not be depriving other country towns of their own rare health professionals.

When country Australian mayors and community leaders say they are struggling to find enough doctors, nurses and other professionals to keep their towns alive, they're not exagerating. So grim is the skills shortage in Australia today, that a half million dollar relocation payment goes begging :

"What it clearly shows is that there aren't the younger doctors out there with the skills and expertise willing to take on this golden opportunity," Dr Mara said.

The $500,000 would be paid on completion of a three-month probationary period, and would be on top of the successful candidate's annual salary, estimated at more than $200,000.

The town's only anaesthetist and two other doctors have left, and without a replacement the surgery has been faced with closure.

A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the poor response to the $500,000 offer was "obviously very disappointing", but the Government "cannot force doctors to move towns".

Yes, but your government could have made sure, say, five or ten years ago, that there were enough incitements for people to study medicine and the health professions, so that this appalling shortage of medicos in rural Australia did not become a reality. Or you could at least make it easier for migrants who are already trained as health professionals, to localise, and refresh, their qualifications and take up such vital roles in the rural health services.

Mr Abbott cannot say he wasn't warned that such a skills shortage was coming. The warnings have been coming loud and strong from rural Australia for a decade that the local doctors and nurses were leaving and there was nobody to replace them.

A typical example of neglect from the Howard government, and a common one when it comes to medical/health professions and services in regional and outback Australia : Ignore a problem until it becomes an emergency, and then announce a solution that will take years to reach fruit. And wait until an election is within eyesight before you make the announcement that you're going to solve the problem.