Thousands of Victorians in the state’s northwest have been left without a bulk-billing general practitioner after a Mildura primary care provider closed its doors.
Tristar medical group shut down its two services in the rural city after the company went into voluntary administration in May.
Some 15,000 residents in Mildura and the surrounding region now cannot access primary health care, Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Rob Phair said.
“It’s a disaster for those patients,” Dr Phair told AAP. “This is all happening in a large rural town which is 550 kilometres from Melbourne.
“We don’t have any quick or easy solutions that are obvious in terms of finding new doctors for those patients because other existing GPs are already full.”
One of the state government’s new urgent care clinics could be established in Mildura to address the issue, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
The clinics, announced on Tuesday, will operate for extended hours, treat non-critical conditions like mild infections, fractures and burns, and be free of charge for Medicare and non-Medicare card holders.
Mildura was not initially listed as one of the planned urgent care clinic locations, but the premier said his government could bring a clinic to the region “as soon as possible”.
“The five we’ve announced plus 10 we added yesterday, they’re being opened throughout the next couple of months,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.
“But given the Tristar issue, there is a real priority in terms of Mildura.
“We are working intensively with the local primary network. I’m sure we’re speaking with the hospital as well to do whatever we can do as fast as we can.”
The premier’s comments were welcome but it would take more than one clinic to address the problem in Mildura, Dr Phair said.
“The big question is who is going to work in it,” he said. “Mildura doesn’t have a pool of GPs that can come and work there. They’re going to have to consider other possibilities.
“Whether that’s setting up a pop-up GP clinic at Sunraysia Community Health or using health direct, which is basically a telephone-based service where you can remotely have a consultation with a nurse or a doctor.
“Long term, we need to have significant structural change in how we recruit students into medical school, the structure of our GP workforce and the structure of we how we pay.”