Streaky Bay Medical Clinic forced to reschedule appointments with no doctor available

CONCERN: Streaky Bay Medical Clinic board chairperson Jonas Woolford could not believe the situation got to the point it did.
CONCERN: Streaky Bay Medical Clinic board chairperson Jonas Woolford could not believe the situation got to the point it did.

Streaky Bay Medical Clinic staff were forced to cancel all appointments this week after no doctor was available for the clinic.

Permanent general practitioner Dr Zeli Sobantu took scheduled leave and when the clinic was informed the locum doctor provided by Rural Doctors Workforce Agency (RDWA) would not be available due to a family situation it started an unsuccessful search for a replacement.

All appointments for the week had to be rescheduled, with the clinic fully booked.

Streaky Bay Medical Clinic board chairperson Jonas Woolford said he was shocked the situation could reach such a point.

"We understand a family situation and people need to attend to it, but RDWA were not able to provide another doctor and we could not find one anywhere," he said.

"We had a week's notice and clinic staff were frantically contacting private agencies and there were not any available.

"It's an ongoing issue that Australia is grappling with and it's gotten worse in the last 12 months that I've been in the position as chairperson - I can't believe it, that it could get worse."

Mr Woolford said it was putting strain on already-stretched resources.

"Dr Zeli can't work 24/7 - we had a week recently where the locum helping Dr Zeli couldn't come and so he was under the pump," Mr Woolford said.

"He had out of hours calls and then had to front up the next day at the clinic for another full day."

RDWA chief executive officer Lyn Poole said the Streaky Bay situation was an "extraordinary circumstance".

"Occasionally things happen and in this instance the locum we had scheduled had a bereavement which prevented them from doing the placement," she said.

"We became aware at the beginning of July and worked from then to find a replacement, but unfortunately it was school holidays which from a doctor perspective is peak period.

"It was not just our locum pool, we also went to all private companies we go to when there is a problem we can't solve and they also couldn't - we were talking to the practice all the way through and then had to say at about July 10 there was nothing more we could do."

She said it was one of those instances where nothing could be done and that it was uncommon for such a scenario to occur.

"We have, I think, the best locum program in any state as far as supporting our workforce, and it is a good program but sometimes things go wrong," Ms Poole said.

"We schedule three months in advance where we can to give a sense of certainty, but you can hit a glitch.

"If possible we will rearrange, but we had nowhere to go in this circumstance."

Streaky Bay has been on the hunt for a second permanent GP since appointing Dr Sobantu earlier this year and Mr Woolford said the board was "exploring every avenue" to secure a doctor.

He said a RDWA program which is about to be implemented, where internationally-trained medical professionals will be placed in rural practices overseen by qualified Australian GPs as a pathway was a good step, but still needed a doctor with the time to help oversee.

In the meantime, he has been attempting to speak with state and federal governments about the town's situation.

"I am trying to get another meeting with Health Minister Stephen Wade, I have been speaking with Peter Treloar and Rowan Ramsey, and mayor Travis Barber is following up too," Mr Woolford said.

"I am also trying to speak to the national rural health commissioner and, hopefully the new Local Health Network can put their minds to sorting out the issue."

Mr Woolford praised the clinic staff for their work.

"The staff at the clinic have been amazing for the effort they have put in to running the clinic, sourcing locums and dealing with those issues, and now rescheduling a whole week's worth of appointments, has been great."