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Hinterland town with ageing population cries out for essential service

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Community leaders of a hinterland town are ramping up cries for access to an essential health service by launching a petition to Parliament House.

The plea comes after Montville’s Ochre Heath closed its doors in January after a five-month search for staff due to a “shortage in doctors”.

The community’s petition states: “The Montville community is in desperate need of a doctor and calls on the Federal Government to do more to ensure a sustainable health service for the town, to improve rural and regional incentives to address GP shortages in the Montville community.

“We, the undersigned, call upon the House of Representatives to improve rural and regional incentives to address GP shortages in the Montville community.”

Pharmacist Natalie Lindner, who has the petition for the community to sign in her Montville Pharmacy, has called on the Federal Government to review Montville’s classification of the Modified Monash Model (which defines whether a location is a city, rural, remote or very remote).

“Montville misses out by only hundreds of metres from MM5 category rural funding zoning, which would make all the difference in attracting doctors,” Ms Lindner said.

“Other, less isolated communities have access to many doctors because of rural government funding, which Montville formerly received.

“Please reinstate this funding to help our town secure doctors once again.”

Members of the Montville community gathered to launch the petition.

Montville has an ageing population, with more than 50 per cent over the age of 55 and well above the state and national averages for people aged 55-84.

Montville Chamber of Commerce president and long-time resident Shiralee Cooper said she recalled there always being a Montville Medical Centre.

“It is alarming to discover that we are likely to no longer have access to this essential service,” Ms Cooper said.

“In the Year of Accessibility, it is an indictment on our health system that our village will no longer have this vitally important service (for our ageing population).

“While we see our aged being increasingly encouraged to stay in their homes through accessing aged care services, our elderly will no longer have a medical centre offering face-to-face doctor’s appointments.”

She said many local families wanted to continue visiting a local doctor.

“Montville is a tourist hub with visitors of all ages frequenting our village,” she said.

“With most ambulances based at least 20 minutes from Montville, having a doctor in the village can make the difference to the outcome of a medical emergency.”

Montville Village Association president Michael Bradley echoed the calls to address the GP shortage and ensure a sustainable medical practice operates in Montville.

Related story: GP closes after five-month staff search

In response, Health Minster Mark Butler said the federal government was committed to investing in general practice and strengthening Medicare.

“Health workforce was a focused part of our Strengthening Medicare Taskforce discussion and an item of discussion at National Cabinet. Premiers, Chief Ministers and our government have made it clear that this issue is in the national interest,” he said.

“We are investing $146 million to attract and retain more health workers to rural and regional Australia through improving training and incentive programs – particularly if they have specialist skills in areas like obstetrics, mental health or emergency medicine.

“That is on top of the $1.6 billion per year the Albanese Government spends on health workforce programs and incentives.”

Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace will present the community’s petition at Parliament House.

Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace welcomed the petition launch and hoped to share a strong and unified voice when he presents it in Canberra.

“The Montville community needs a doctor,” Mr Wallace said.

“The state and federal governments have the levers to pull to give Australian rural and regional communities the health services they deserve.

“The pressure on medical centres is multi-faceted and nationwide due to several reasons, including rising costs of running a practice and a skilled workforce shortage. But this community doesn’t want excuses, they want solutions and I’m happy to be their voice in Parliament House.”

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Mr Wallace said the workforce issues could be addressed if the Federal Government prioritised visa applications of skilled healthcare workers the rural and regional communities were crying out for.

“This is on top of the Labor Government changing the Distribution Priority Areas (DPA) for overseas-trained doctors,” Mr Wallace said.

“Labor prioritised the outer suburbs of our capital cities in a change of Coalition policy last July, which has placed greater strains upon existing primary health care systems in towns like Montville.

“I call on the federal government to immediately reverse its decisions that have adversely affected health services in rural and regional communities.”

Mr Butler responded, saying primary care was in its worst shape since Medicare began.

Minister for Health Mark Butler.

“The former government, which Mr Wallace was a member of, froze the Medicare rebate for six years, ripping billions of dollars out of primary care and causing gap fees to skyrocket,” Mr Butler said.

“We said at the election that there was no higher priority for Labor in the health portfolio than strengthening Medicare and rebuilding general practice, because the constant advice we have received across the country is that after nine years of cuts and neglect to Medicare, it has never been harder to see a doctor, and never more expensive – with bulk billing rates in decline and gap fees constantly going up.”

Mr Butler said GP shortages remained a matter of concern and the Australian Government was working to improve access to primary care services across Australia.

“In Australia, we are fortunate to have a strong supply of doctors compared to many other countries,” he said.

“The challenge we face, and frustration sometimes felt when services are not readily available for people, is a result of doctors being poorly distributed both between specialties and geographically.”

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor with your name and suburb at Sunshine Coast News via: news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au

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