TUMUT Family Medical Centre will go from having three doctors to one this Friday with the departure of Doctors John Curnow and Liz Golez.
Centre director Janette Wilson said the staff is “very concerned” about the community and not themselves.
“We want the community to know that we will fill the empty rooms at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
She confirmed that the Centre is negotiating with employment agencies regarding recruitment of new doctors.
“We have a couple of irons in the fire, but the process takes time,” she said.
“We want to get long-term doctors, but in the interim, we may have to get locums. We will see what happens. We just want to reassure the community that we are doing our best and that it is business as usual. We are struggling but the community is our main concern.”
She said that the staff of the centre wished the two departing doctors all the best in their new career paths.
Meanwhile, Mrs Wilson said the centre is looking into the future of medicine with the appointment of University of NSW medical students James Carroll and Jennifer Preddy, who are both from the Riverina.
“They are six-year medical students and they are seeing the patients under the guidance of the doctors,” she said.
Dr Curnow is currently the only Tumut doctor who is qualified to administer anaesthetic, an absolute requirement in almost any surgical procedure, and his departure leaves a troubling void.
Tumut Cluster Manager for Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) Maria Roche said that Dr Curnow would continue to assist at the hospital until another GP is hired.
“Tumut Hospital advises that Dr John Curnow will continue to provide on-call Visiting Medical Officer/Anaesthetist services to Tumut Hospital while recruitment is underway for a replacement General Practitioner (GP) for Tumut Medical Centre,” she said.
“We continue to work with the Medical Centre to support ongoing recruitment of General Practitioners to the town. We are grateful to Dr Curnow for his continued support of the hospital and thank him for his service to the community over many years.”
However, former health professional and former mayor Geoff Pritchard said that the fact that a single doctor moving on can leave the town without an anaesthetist reveals a wider problem in rural health care.
Mr Pritchard believes qualified doctors should have to complete mandatory time in the country to ensure their vital services are being provided, as is the case with other emergency services like policing, where personnel are allocated based on resident’s needs.
“For some years I’ve held that we need at least two or preferably three general practitioner anaesthetists in the region – that’s Gundagai through to Tumbarumba,” he said.
“If we don’t have that kind of service it means that any patient who needs anaesthetic would have to be transferred to Wagga, and that puts enormous pressure on Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital.
“It’s not just for elective procedures, the main worry is having an anaesthetist available for emergency issues. The paramedics are excellent, but you really do need someone with that training on hand in the hospital in a town like Tumut.”
Mr Pritchard said ensuring that country towns have appropriate medical services should be considered a government responsibility.
“The government really needs to have the fortitude to solve these type of problems in rural areas,” he said.
“The cities are overloaded with office type GPs, and they need to make sure that doctors are trained and distributed throughout the country. The government is forfeiting its responsibilities by allowing rural areas not to have proper services.
“My own personal feeling is that if doctors want access to the Medicare system they should have to spend some time in rural areas.”