Trauma of our tourists: health care is denied

DON'T get sick on holiday.

That's the message visitors to Coffs Coast are receiving as a nation-wide doctor shortage is forcing patients to wait up to a fortnight to see a GP.

A recent visitor, who wished to remain anonymous, said she tried in vain to get her five-year-old daughter to see a doctor last week.

After being told no appointments were available, she took her daughter to the after-hours medical centre, only to find a queue thick with people and a cold wait ahead of her.

“I don't remember ever having to wait outside a doctor's surgery when I was growing up, or even having to wait days or even weeks to get in to see a doctor,” she said.

“I've got friends who had to wait three weeks for an appointment, others who visited Coffs Harbour recently and spent a whole day ringing doctor's surgeries but their books were closed.

“How many other holidaying visitors are being forced to use the after-hours service?”

Inquiries by the Coffs Coast Advocate last week found seven out of ten doctor surgeries in Coffs Harbour were not taking new patients, while the earliest appointment that could be made was two weeks away.

But an ongoing shortage of doctors has been blamed for the nation-wide problem.

Woolgoolga general practitioner, Dr John Kramer, said last year in NSW there were 600 medical graduates but now extra places are available, that number will double by 2012.

“The challenge is what to do in the meantime,” Dr Kramer said.

“The Coffs Coast is a predominantly older population and doctors are dealing with a high proportion of chronic illness as a result.”

Mid North Coast Division of General Practice chief executive officer, Peter Spence, said rural and regional communities make up 30 per cent of the population but only receive 20 per cent of health dollars spent per capita.

“This has a detrimental effect on the workforce to deliver care and reduces access to equitable services of our urban counterparts,” he said.

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