Doctors on short-term locum contracts are being paid “desperation money” as the Queensland state government grapples with a chronic doctor shortage.
According to the Courier Mail, tax-payer-funded pay packages worth $1 million per year have been offered to fly-in locum doctors as some hospitals have operated without a doctor, and patients have been turned away.
Each Hospital and Health Service (HHS) in Queensland is responsible for managing and engaging locums, with some medical recruitment job services offering general practitioners nearly $3000 per day.
Meanwhile, Queensland Health doctors are not permitted to take up these government locum positions.
“Desperation money is being thrown at fill-in doctors instead of the government resourcing their own medics,” Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chair Bruce Willett said, reported the Courier Mail.
As an example, Willet told the Courier Mail that a GP at Childers Hospital was working a double shift as there were no other available doctors to tend to patients. Then when the GP asked Queensland Health for help, no one was sent.
“The doctor couldn’t cope and was forced to leave, then locums arrived,” Willet said.
“We are now seeing the results of decades of chronic underfunding of general practice.”
“This is having an impact on hospital services. The artificial divide between state and Commonwealth responsibilities for health needs to be broken down.”
However, Rural Doctors Association Queensland president Matt Masel told the Courier Mail that the payment to locum doctors is reflected in the short supply.
“This isn’t reflected in an increase in offers for salaried roles,” Masel said.
Longer-term Planning Needed
Across the country, GP clinics are also struggling to find qualified staff as medicare rebates for GP appointments continue to decrease. Medicare rebates for most GP appointments have risen by 1.6 percent, short of the inflation rate of 6.1 percent.
“That is putting pressure on emergency departments across Australia because we’re seeing a lot more GP-type presentations in hospitals,” Karyn Matterson, a GP who works locum contracts told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
“The people who are presenting are actually sicker than what we’ve seen in primary health care in the past because they can’t get into doctors.”
Masel said that the increased costs of locums show that the health system is not working.
“We’re seeing doctors coming out of medical schools where 50 percent used to choose a general practice, and only about 15 percent do now,” Masel said.
“This means this problem is only going to be worse in a few years’ time unless we really make those choices to go into general practice and rural practice more attractive.”
Emma McBride, assistant minister for Regional Health, told the ABC that the Coalition had cut Medicare when it was in government, adding that the Albanese government would spend $135 million to create 50 bulk-billing clinics across the country. She said that would take pressure off hospital emergency departments and help Australians access care when they needed it.
“This will mean practices can recruit GPs from a wider pool of doctors, it will take the pressure off hospital emergency departments, and it will help Australians access the care they need when they need it,” she said.