Doctors here, but no place to work
By BELINDA F SCOTT
COFFS Harbour is losing specialist doctors because they cannot find anywhere to work.
A planned specialist medical centre next to the Coffs Harbour Health Campus has reportedly been ruled out by Coffs Harbour City Council, doctors are being refused permission to open new rooms in residential and tourist areas, and parking restrictions are making new medical centre developments 'astronomically' expensive, doctors say.
Dr Jon Waites, Coffs Harbour's only heart specialist, needs to move out of his rooms at Baringa Private Hospital due to a new development there, but cannot find anywhere to relocate.
He told ABC Radio this week he had bought land next to the public hospital with another surgeon and they had planned to develop the land as a specialist medical centre, but the council had ruled that out because of flood concerns and he was seriously considering moving to another city,
"For the past seven years I've been trying to recruit another cardiologist and I finally found a young cardiologist who's now in Sydney and wants to relocate up here," he said.
"Not only do I not have anywhere to put myself, I've also got nowhere to put him.
"This has happened to three or four other specialists that we've lost in the past 12 months."
A spokeswoman for Coffs Harbour City Council said in the past few weeks senior staff had met with six doctors about their individual applications and had also held three meetings with groups of doctors, which indicated that the council was listening to the medicos' concerns.
Mark Salter, Coffs Harbour City Council's director of land use, health and development, said he could not discuss Dr Waites' specific application, but the land was zoned 5A Special Uses Hospital so was theoretically available for development for medical uses.
However it was closer to the creek, which would make it more flood prone than the adjacent hospital and Radiotherapy Unit.
The chief executive officer of the Mid North Coast Division of General Practice, Dr David Ellis, said many of the problems being experienced by doctors were unintended consequences of the council's parking Development Control Plan and 2000 Local Environment Plan, which only allowed medical practices in the city centres of Coffs Harbour, Park Beach Plaza, Sawtell and Woolgoolga, in an attempt to focus development in those areas.
But Dr Ellis said there also seemed to be 'a faintly antagonistic' attitude to medical development from council planning staff.
He said the rules were pushing doctors away from where their patients lived.
Mr Salter said with LEP 2000 council had made 'a very conscious decision' to restrict professional rooms to the city's business zones.
"Businesses setting up in residential zones goes against transport principles," he said.