By BELINDA SCOTT
DOCTOR Bruce Dolman has been a general practitioner in Coffs Harbour since 1946 and he has no plans to retire just yet.
Long after many people his age have retired, Dr Dolman is still working five days a week, not only because he enjoys working, but also because he says he feels an obligation to the people he has been caring for for more than 50 years.
But doctors like this World War II veteran, spending their careers working incredibly long hours and rarely seeing their families, are a vanishing breed.
Young doctors and their partners, who may also be doctors, want time out as well as careers and that is part of the reason for a national shortage of GPs that is hitting the Coffs Coast hard.
Labor Senator of NSW, Michael Forshaw, said this week the ratio of people per full time equivalent (FTE) general practitioners in the Cowper electorate had hit 1843, which was above the national average of 1451 people, already considered a national health crisis.
He said the Federal Government's own recommended figure was closer to 1000 people per doctor, while figures above 1400 were regarded by the Commonwealth Health Department as an area of need. "The crisis is set to worsen with 30 per cent of FTE GPs aged over 55, an increase of 5.4 per cent," he said. "Just eight per cent are aged less than 35, a decrease of 17 per cent since 1996."
Senator Forshaw blamed the Howard Government for its action
inutting the number of GP training places to 400 a year shortly after coming to office in 1996.
The chief executive officer of the Mid North Coast Division of General Practice, Dr David Ellis, said the real figure for people per doctor in Cowper was much higher, since the figure ignored visitor numbers; described GPs who worked long hours as 1.5 or two doctors and included GPs not providing a full service but working in sub-specialities like veins, skin cancers and psychology.
Dr Ellis said in the mid 1990s many groups had thought there was an oversup- ply of GPs, a serious miscalculation which would take 10-13 years to correct through training.
He agreed with Senator Forshaw that the Mid North Coast was heavily reliant on overseas trained doctors, a situation likely to worsen with 70 per cent of doctors in the region over 45.