Kimba mayor highlights inequity of rural councils paying to attract permanent doctors

DRAWCARD: Kimba mayor Dean Johnson said the upgrade to the medical clinic would hopefully be another incentive for doctors to practice in the town. Photo: Lauren Fitzgerald.
DRAWCARD: Kimba mayor Dean Johnson said the upgrade to the medical clinic would hopefully be another incentive for doctors to practice in the town. Photo: Lauren Fitzgerald.

Kimba mayor Dean Johnson has highlighted the inequity in health services for the Eyre Peninsula, saying that no council in a metro area has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and retain or gain general practitioners in the area.

The council is now applying for a grant through the Rural Health Workforce Strategy Steering Committee to provide financial incentive to draw GP's to the region.

"Obviously Kimba has had long term issues trying to get GP services," he said.

"We've had intermittent success but it's always been short lived.

"You build a relationship with a local GP that you may not see with a locum, and it's what local people want."

In 2019, Dr Graham Fleming decided to set up a clinic three days a week to support the town until they could attract a younger, more permanent doctor.

Mr Johnson said that the service was increased to five days a week through working with locums, doctors who fill in the gaps in the service but who are not based in Kimba full time.

However he said the system was unfortunately constantly "interuppted" by things like unexpected sick days, and that telehealth was no replacement during these times.

"We just want two GPs so it's more sustainable and we can give them a work-life balance," said Mr Johnson.

"If we can find full time GPs there will be massive cost savings from the locums...it's no secret that it's costing the EFNLHN (Eyre Far North Local Health Network) $2000 a day."

District Council of Kimba chief executive officer Deb Larwood said permanent GPs could provide a continuity of care and help prevent health issues.

"(The current service) is more a reactive service than a proactive one," she said.

"Northern Eyre Peninsula is among the most remote places for health care, and we believe we are at least 30 doctors short."

Mr Johnson said they were hopeful a successful grant application would provide them with two doctors for at least two years, while they negotiate longer term contracts.

He said they wanted to base their model off of Forbes, New South Wales, where financial incentives go towards paying off large HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) debts.

"Or even if they want to pay off a mortgage...we need to get them from where they are practicing now to a place in need," said Mr Johnson.

"We are really committed to finding at least two doctors.

"There is a fairness and equity problem on the Eyre Peninsula.

"Council has put in hundreds of thousands of dollars (to finding permanent health services).

"No one in the city has to pay for this, but we've been forced to and we need help."

The grant recipients are expected to be announced in September.

In order to incentivise GPs further, Kimba council is in the midst of upgrading the council-owned medical clinic to provide seven consulting rooms for GPs and allied health practitioners.

It is costing just under $1million, with $200,000 of council's own funds and the remainder is from the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility's Community Benefit Fund.

Mr Johnson said it will also have solar power, and an automatic startup backup generator.

"It's not just going to be a state-of-the-art facility, it will have a video conference and training room for professional development on site," he said.

"By the end of the year we hope to have it done."