Wentworth facing COVID-19 with no GP

Far West NSW town goes from two doctors to zero at a crucial time

Wentworth District Community Medical Centre Inc president Glenis Beaumont with pharmacist Alex Elfeki and Wentworth local Ian Atkinson (left).

Wentworth District Community Medical Centre Inc president Glenis Beaumont with pharmacist Alex Elfeki and Wentworth local Ian Atkinson (left).


There are currently 245 rural GP vacancies in NSW.


Last March Wentworth, in Far West NSW had two general practitioners in town.

This March, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, they have zero.

There are currently 245 vacancies for rural GPs across the state, according to the NSW Rural Doctor Network website, Wentworth one of six listed in the Far West health district.

The town of Wentworth has a population of 1600, one-third aged over 55, while Wentworth Shire Council encompasses close to 8000 people in a 26,000 square kilometre region.

Wentworth's nearest large town is Mildura, around 35 minutes away across the Victorian border, where at least one case of COVID-19 has been confirmed.

Wentworth District Community Medical Centre Inc president Glenis Beaumont explained that in March last year Wentworth's two GP clinics both announced they were leaving within a week of each other.

She said luckily Wentworth Shire Council was able to financially support one of the practices, enabling them to remain open.

However, at the end of February this year, the clinic announced they would be closing.

"The community was absolutely shell-shocked when the doctor announced they were leaving within a week and the clinic was closing," Ms Beaumont said.

"The elderly feel panicked, they don't have many options.

"We're a small, rural town, our public transport is limited, older people don't necessarily have transport despite the best efforts of neighbours and friends, and in reality the medical clinics are in Mildura.

Visit to doctor taking up to six hours on public transport

Wentworth local, Ian Atkinson has lymphoma and needs to travel to Mildura for monthly medical appointments.

As he has no car, he uses a local transport service but with the stops along the way he ends up being away from home for five to six hours.

"Ian can manage that ok, but others that are elderly and infirm, with mobility or other issues are less able to tolerate a block of time travelling around," Ms Beaumont said.

She said due to other GP practices closing in the region, some clinics in Mildura did not currently have the capacity to take on more patients.

"Some of our community members have no access to doctors at the moment," she said.

"It's a difficult situation and overlay that with COVID-19 and the anxiety around that, the need for extra precautions, the need for testing etc it becomes very tricky."

She said their one local pharmacy would also likely be adversely affected if a doctor could not be found.

"I can't say strongly enough the town cannot afford to lose the pharmacy as well," Ms Beaumont said.

Member for Murray urges health minister to take action

Member for Murray, Helen Dalton wrote to federal health minister, Greg Hunt on Wednesday, asking for his help to source a GP for Wentworth, writing the spread of COVID-19 would have a devastating impact on this vulnerable population in the absence of a GP.

"It is absolutely urgent that we stop stuffing around, the government needs to do their job and provide some money to get a GP in Wentworth," Ms Dalton said.

"The Wentworth Shire Council and a lot of councils in my area, they are footing the bill for a lot of these GPs where really it's the responsibility of the state and federal governments."

In a statement Wentworth Shire Council said council, in conjunction with government agencies and possible service providers, continued to work collaboratively to develop options to reinstate the provision of GP service into Wentworth.

"Each and every one of the options require support by state government for the infrastructure and federal government for the supply of the Doctors," the statement read.

Minister Hunt's office has been contacted for comment.


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