Lower EP health report raises alarm

The District Council of Lower Eyre Peninsula’s (DCLEP) ‘Health and Ageing in our Community’ report has found the number of general practitioners (GPs) in the area is less than half the national average and that a lack of specialist services is costing patients their time and money.

In the DCLEP, 547 households responded to the survey saying that they wanted adequate services closer to home with visiting specialists and virtual health not enough.

As of January 2018, the council had three GPs servicing approximately 3400 patients, which is equivalent to a rate of 88 GPs per 100,000 people. This figure is less than half the national average of 202 GPs per 100,000 people.

A lack of GPs and allied health workers in the council district were linked to the size of health facilities available and the lack of community owned GP housing which could impact future potential to recruit GPs.

In the 12 months prior to the survey, 78 households said they were unable to access a health service due to waiting lists or financial and logistical constraints preventing travel to Adelaide.

For an initial consultation over Skype with a psychiatrist or psychologist, there was an average 12 week wait. 

Local GPs can refer patients to mental health services under a plan that gives them access to three free consultations. However, local patients often wait up to 16 weeks to receive a letter from Country SA Primary Health Network to say they are now on a wait list for funding to access such psychology services.

DCLEP respondents named cardiologists and oncologists as the most important specialist services for the area.

With no personal choice in visiting specialists, shortages have lead to long waiting lists or a complete lack of some residents even visiting specialist services.

Currently GPs can refer patients to private specialists to save waiting for an appointment with a visiting specialist at the Port Lincoln Hospital (PLH).

However, private specialists do not perform surgery in PLH. Therefore patients requiring surgery have to travel to Adelaide and are not eligible for the patient assistance transport scheme (PATS) reimbursement if they have by-passed their nearest visiting specialist.

Some of the main issues effecting ageing residents were social isolation, restricted palliative and long term care beds, and the lack of secure dementia spaces in residential aged care facilities.

Local facilities are struggling to cope, with the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics showing 52 per cent of residents in permanent residential aged care in the region have dementia.

The major gaps in health services for 13 to 25 years was deemed to be fitness and diet, suicide prevention, social and mental health, counselling and alcohol and drug programs.