Mr Howard – Are Two Phone Calls Too Much To Ask To Help The Bush Save Its Doctors? – 1 February 2000

Our Prime Minister, John Howard, says he will do whatever it takes to solve the problems of doctor shortages in the bush. All he has to do is make two telephone calls.

“The first phone call should be to Dr Bill O’Hare a former GP in the Greater Upper Murray Area Health Service in Rural NSW. The second phone call should be made to Dr Jim Watts a rural GP in Hopetoun, Victoria,” said Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund, which has been fighting to retain bush doctors for the last 10 years.

Dr O’Hare left his full-time country practice nine years ago because he could no longer stomach the rules, the regulations, and the arrogant disregard for medical opinion. As a locum he watched more of his colleagues do the same.

Dr Jim Watts simply wants to admit his patients to his local hospital in Hopetoun like he has for the past nine years, but the health bureaucrats say he cannot do so.

Mr Milgate said, “If Mr Howard is serious about solving the country doctor shortage he needs to know what makes these doctors tick and why they are leaving in droves.”

“Top of Mr Howard’s agenda should be to talk to country doctors who are being forced out of town by mindless bureaucracy – a bureaucracy that treats the bush as a poor city cousin.

“Doctors who want to work in the bush are a special breed,” says Mr Milgate. “They want to practise old fashioned, all-round medicine and they are prepared to work long and hard at it.

“But in country areas all over Australia, bureaucrats are introducing rules which are totally incompatible with the ethos of these doctors.

“Yet there’s a whole group of doctors out there who love the bush, who love rural medicine but they are packing their bags, and John Howard, if he is serious about the bush, would do well to pick up the phone and find out why,” said Mr Milgate.