Karim Khan and Nuzrat Jami say the government must step in to help or they will close their Maryborough surgery on Saturdays.
Karim Khan and Nuzrat Jami say the government must step in to help or they will close their Maryborough surgery on Saturdays. Fraser Coast Chronicle

GP service collapsing

THE only doctors in Maryborough who bulk bill their patients 100% are ready to pull the pin, saying their workload has reached “crisis point”.

“We can't get another doctor to join our practice because the Federal Government says Maryborough doesn't need more doctors,” say Karim Khan and Nuzrat Jami.

The Station Square medico husband-and-wife team have been trying to recruit a doctor since they opened their six-day-a-week practice in December 2007.

“I knew from the first day when so many patients arrived that we were going to need help,” Dr Khan said.

“And it has got worse. Today when I opened the doors at 8.30am there were 10 people waiting outside.”

Drs Khan and Jami only charge their patients $33.55 - the exact amount Medicare refunds them.

Doctors on the Fraser Coast generally charge between $50 and $65, so the patient has to pay the gap.

“In Pakistan we also saw a great many patients but there the government puts far less into the health system then the government does here so the paper work is significantly less in Pakistan.

“Most days my wife and I can't stop for lunch.

“We are unable to extend our care to aged care facilities, which we would really like to do.

“Last night when I got home I received an urgent call that one of my patients had to be admitted to St Stephen's Hospital. I was just exhausted and needed to be home to spend even a little time with our three children so I phoned a colleague in Hervey Bay and he drove up to the admission for me.

“We can't keep going like this but also we can't say no to patients who need medical help but can't afford to pay more than the Medicare set fee.”

The Federal Government zones each town and even suburbs in Australia to allow - or disallow - overseas-trained doctors with Australian credentials to work in private practice.

Maryborough is not zoned as a “district of workplace shortage”, which means any overseas-trained doctor wanting to work in private practice in Maryborough cannot do so for 10 years after receiving Australian credentials.

“It is ridiculous to zone Maryborough as a non-district of workplace shortage. The government claims we have 40 to 50 doctors here. But in fact it's like taxis. You may have 50 taxis registered but only five on the road. Maryborough has many retired doctors who do not practice at all.

“I estimate the reality here is we have maybe 15 doctors working full-time and yet our population is around 25,000.”

Dr Khan has also tried to recruit Australian-trained doctors.

“But they are either elderly and wanting to practice perhaps four hours a week only or they arrive in Maryborough and soon after move to Hervey Bay. They prefer it there.”

“The Division of General Practice has made many submissions over the years over Maryborough's zoning and doctor shortage,” said Paul Neeskens, the chair of GP Links Wide Bay.

“The government's criteria are quite dogmatic. They say one of the criteria for DWS is 1350 people per Medicare provider number.

“Dr Khan has discovered the stumbling block that has been around for years in rural and regional areas - the problem of recruiting GPs for a busy practice in these areas.”

Fraser Coast Local Medical Association president Shaun Rudd said Maryborough was generally short of GPs but the same problem did not “really exist in Hervey Bay”.

“The State and Commonwealth governments don't regard Maryborough as in need of more doctors.”

Dr Jami said: “My husband comes home exhausted every day and it is affecting our family life; the lives of our three children.”

“The situation is very bad. We don't wish to say no to helping people but it seems we will have to now close the surgery on Saturday mornings so we can get some rest.”

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