Rising locum doctor fees lead to charity withdrawing financial support in five NSW towns

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A year or two ago, it cost just over $1,000 a day for a locum GP to cover while a city’s permanent doctor was on furlough. It has now tripled to almost $4,000.

It is this “eye-watering” increase that is being blamed on a medical charity which withdrew its financial support to pay doctors by airlift in five towns in New South Wales.

“It’s a sea change, we’re going from GP replacement rates of $1,200 a day to anywhere between $2,500, $3,500, $3,750 a day,” said Mark Burdack, CEO Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS).

“We are looking in some cases, in some cities, for locum rates that have more than tripled in the last year.”

RARMS has announced that from September 30 it will no longer help pay substitutes at Gilgandra, Warren, Bingara, Tenterfield and Braidwood.

Practices in those cities will remain open, but the charity’s decision means they will be saddled with locum bills.

“We cannot afford to pay the substitution costs in the future.

“That means each of the cities, if they lose a GP, if they decide to go there, they’ll potentially have to pay between $2,500 and $3,500 a day to get a replacement.”

Bingara, in north-west New South Wales, is one of five towns affected by the withdrawal of RARMS.(Provided: Lisa Herbert)

“Unable to subsidize”

Mr Burdack said the organization had managed to meet the costs over the past few years thanks to JobKeeper payments from the federal government.

He said a request for an extension was denied.

“Unfortunately this is not something that has been picked up and therefore without JobKeeper money we are simply not able to subsidize locum coverage in these communities when there is no permanent doctor,” he said.

a man looking ahead
RARMS CEO Mark Burdack said negotiations were underway to help fill the void left by the charity.(Provided)

RARMS said the permanent doctors at Tenterfield and Braidwood have agreed to take over full management of these practices.

Mr Burdack said that in Bingara, northwest of Tamworth, the local council had intervened.

Unsurprising decision

But the Mayor of Gwydir Shire Council, John Coulton, said the council was not taking over Bingara’s health service and the decision by RARMS was not a surprise.

“We were very suspicious about it,” he said.

“We spoke to Mark Burdack in May, he couldn’t give any guarantees that they could stay open under the current setup.

“It’s not a local government function, we’ll do whatever we can to facilitate another arrangement.

“We have spoken to different sources that we could use at this stage, we have nothing.”

“We had a meeting yesterday with Gilgandra and Warren, two other counsel in the same position, and we bounced off each other.”

RARMS says it is negotiating with Western NSW Local Health District and Western Primary Health Network over future arrangements in Gilgandra and Warren.

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