By CAITLIN CROWLEY
QUEENSLAND’s Health Minister has lashed out at the state’s “failing GP sector” and what she called a locum “bidding war” unfolding in regional areas, undermining efforts to fill vacancies which have left dozens of country communities without access to a range of medical services, particularly maternity care.
Minister Yvette D’Ath said the fees locum doctors were charging were “absolutely extraordinary” and there’d been circumstances where media reports about short staffing have resulted in locums hiking their prices.
“We offer a job to a locum and it could be as little as 24 hours before they’re due to arrive or to start on the job, they say, ‘I’ve taken another job because they’re offering more money,'” D’Ath said.
“It is a bidding war out there and it’s quite brutal.
“In fact we’ve had circumstances where we were negotiating with the locums, there were media reports and then we got a call saying, ‘Our fee just went up,’ from the media reports – because they know they’re in demand.
“I find that quite unconscionable to be honest.”
Yvette D’Ath was in Toowoomba to announce the start of early works on the city’s $1.3 billion hospital project.
Hutchinson Builders was awarded an $11.5 million contract to build a new access road and prepare the Baillie Henderson site with stormwater, power and telecommunications.
Construction on the project is expected to start next year and scheduled to finish by late 2027.
The Minister also took aim at what she called the “failing GP sector” and the pressure that’s added to the state’s public health system.
“Every failing in the primary care sector has a flow on effect to the public health sector,” she said.
“We’re left to mop up those deficiencies and those market failures.”
The Health Minister has been under increasing pressure from the LNP over the lack of maternity services in country Queensland.
Callide MP Bryson Head calling the situation an “absolute disgrace” in an emotional speech to parliament last week.
He spoke about two baby girls from his electorate who were born on the side of a highway, as Callide remains without a single active maternity ward across 14 hospitals.
“While our shadow health minister travels the state and hears all of these horrendous stories, Premier Palaszczuk continues to defend the worst Health Minister Queensland has ever seen,” Head said.
Yvette D’Ath defended the state government’s record on regional health services, citing a national shortage of obstetricians as one of the key reasons why Gladstone’s maternity ward has been on bypass since July last year.
“We are competing with everyone else around the country trying to get these obstetricians and we weren’t able to bring in any international doctors for over two years,” D’Ath said.
She said she hoped a Queensland maternity workforce forum this Thursday would yield “additional ideas” to get services open, safely.
“A lot of our peak professional bodies all have opinions on what we should be doing – bring those opinions to the table, but also bring solutions,” she said.
One solution the minister offered was more training places for medical students in Queensland.
The University of Southern Queensland has just welcomed its first cohort of students studying the new Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences, with graduates of the program eligible to move directly into The University of Queensland’s Doctor of Medicine at the UQ Rural Clinical School Toowoomba, as part of a collaboration between the universities and health services.
Darling Downs Health chair Mike Horan said the pathway allowed students to complete all their undergraduate and postgraduate studies and clinical training in the region, with Darling Downs Health and South West Hospital and Health Service to provide student placements, internships and specialist training.
“This milestone marks the first of many cohorts building a medical workforce of not just skilled clinicians, but community leaders, innovators, and doctors our towns can rely on,” Horan said.
Jiayong Jiang (pictured below) is among the 22 students selected for the first intake and said it was an opportunity to pursue her medical dream while living at home.
“I have always wanted to study medicine, and I have always wanted to practice rurally,” Jiang said.
“When I heard about this pathway, I was really excited to be able to stay in Toowoomba with my family but also know I was on a path to contribute to rural health in my future.”