Council elections are upon us with lots of talk about what should be done to improve health services within the Huon Valley, with a lot of focus on the access to General Practitioners (GPs) in Geeveston and Dover.
I believe there is a lot of misinformation in the community about what could be done from a council perspective, especially from candidates wanting to point score to get elected.
From the outset, I strongly believe that the council has done its best to support access to doctors at Geeveston and Dover.
The council has focused on the continuation of services by spending beyond budgetary constraints and guaranteeing ongoing financial support.
At the same time, they are proactively looking to fill GP vacancies from a very slim list of potential candidates.
The GP is the centre of your healthcare where they diagnose, monitor, prescribe, refer and ensure the best possible health service access.
Unfortunately, when timely access to GPs is limited, the health of our communities suffers.
The root causes of the lack of GP access are multifaceted.
A decade ago, 50 per cent of medical university graduates became GPs with only 15 per cent now entering this specialty.
GPs generally prefer to work in metropolitan areas and can earn a lot more money in other medical specialties.
These factors alone, account for most issues of access to rural GPs.
These problems are not new and not localised to the Huon Valley.
Across Australia, rural surgeries have struggled to attract and keep GPs.
Federally funded Medicare rebates and rural support payments have not kept pace with inflation, resulting in many GP surgeries dropping bulk billing or closing.
The federal government will need to look at increasing funding to general practice via Medicare rebates or other funding mechanisms or risk losing many rural general practices.
State governments may need to step in to financially support general practices as local councils cannot continue to subsidise huge budget deficits indefinitely.
Further to funding, other organisations are looking at increasing scope of practice so nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other allied health professionals can do more for our patients such as vaccinations, continued dispensing and treatment of common ailments.
The use of telehealth as a mechanism to provide collaborative health care to rural patients is also being investigated to fill the health care gaps.
These issues are beyond the remit of the local council and would require additional federal or state funding, training and a cast iron political will to do so.
I personally wish the council candidates the best of luck and hope that the next council continue to have Huon Valley focused people making the wonderful Huon Valley an even better and healthier place to live.