Another Nail In The Coffin For Rural General Practice – 28 January 1999

“The plight of Dr Jim Watts, a rural general practitioner in the Victorian country town of Hopetoun (120 kms north of Horsham) is typical of the disincentives for city doctors to practise in country towns”, Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund said today.

Dr Watts, who originally trained in England, came to Australia 24 years ago and has spent virtually all of his professional life since then in rural towns as a general practitioner.

Eight years ago he established himself in Hopetoun (population 670) as the town’s only doctor and worked in conjunction with the local private bush nursing hospital. He worked hard to provide a local service.

Recently, the Board of the Bush Nursing Hospital and its members accepted an offer by the Victorian Government to become a public hospital. The administration of the hospital has been actively recruiting overseas doctors to work as salaried doctors in the new public hospital, hence forcing Dr Watts to leave or compete with a “free” service.

“Many of the residents of Hopetoun will undoubtedly see the benefits of a free service in a public hospital rather than paying fee for service to Dr Watts and obtaining their Medicare rebate” Mr Milgate said.

“Dr Watts has been unable to establish a satisfactory relationship with the public hospital who he believes want too much control over his practice”.

“I do not want to be managed by bureaucrats”, Dr Watts said. “I want to be a sole rural GP with a viable practice, looking after people who have difficulty getting access to medical care”.

“Many young doctors would be wary of building their career as a rural general practitioner when they see what is happening to Dr Watts. It’s just another disincentive to go bush”, Mr Milgate said.