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18 October 2001

Jubilance short-lived Health Partnership seeks solutions

Dr Richard Harper with receptionist, Rebecca Christie

The jubilation felt by Ridge residents at the recent announcement they would be serviced by three Doctors has been short-lived.

Patients have again been thrust into turmoil as they seek, in many cases, critical medical attention.

By Thursday of this week the newly recruited Dr. Richard Harper, will be the sole General Practitioner in Lightning Ridge.

With the imminent departure of Dr. Sonny Baines and the decision by Dr. Aalders to quit his Morilla Street practise, Dr. Harper will shoulder the responsibility and stress associated with his unenviable role.

Meanwhile, Far West Area Health Service General Manager, Stuart Gordon, will seek strategies to support Dr. Harper.

Mr. Gordon expects to have a locum in place in 10 days and has also indicated that Dr. Aalders will endeavour to keep his practise operational with locums.

'Using some Walgett resources now in place may be an option', said Mr. Gordon. Mr. Gordon believes that once the Hospital is established the Doctor crisis may stabilise. 'Being able to care for their patients, rather than sending them out is a form of incentive', he said.

'The emphasis will be upon supporting Dr. Harper in his present practise', said the Far West Area Health Manager.

Dr. Harper, who took up his appointment through the Rural Doctors Network, is far from content in his new working environment.

Speaking of his Morilla Street surgery, he described at as ' having inadequate equipment and staff to provide proper General Practitioner Services'. 'I think the people of Lightning Ridge have been very tolerant and certainly deserve better', he said.

'It is a huge disincentive for a General Practitioner to come to a surgery as poor as here, when it would not take a huge expenditure to provide adequate equipment'.

'I would go as far as to say that it is the worst equipped surgery I have ever worked in', he said. Standards set by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners are not being met in this surgery.

'Everything positive I have experienced has generated from the Rural Doctors' Network', he said Commenting upon Dr. Harpers' understandable discontent, Stuart Gordon said, 'Help is on its way'. Shelving, storage, equipment, even landline phones are non existent at this present surgery. Where does the 'buck' stop on this one?

With 150 towns in NSW without a Doctor and not likely to secure one, we become yet another statistic.

Our track record for achievement does not allow for complacency. And whilst the politicians and 'hopefuls' are in election mode they may choose to source the answers.

As Dr. Harper rightly pointed out, we do deserve better and so too the practitioners who service rural communities.

'The responsibility for Health Services in Lightning Ridge is a partnership between Far West Area Health Service (State Government), Rural Doctors Network, (Commonwealth) and Local Government', said Far West Area Health Service General Manager, Stuart Gordon,

'We are working together to provide the best possible service'

'If a patient presents at the Accident and Emergency Centre and needs to see a Doctor, I want one to be available', he said.

The Rural Doctors Network are aware of the problems and are funded by the Commonwealth to address some of these problems.

(In the case of Lightning Ridge they will arrive with much needed equipment in the near future.) And Local Government also has a role to play.


'I have always emphasised that a Purpose Built surgery with sufficient infrastructure must be part of a package to attract and retain Doctors in Lightning Ridge', said Stuart Gordon.

It really is over to the 'partnership' to perform and the community to ensure the goods are delivered that will give some stability to this disruptive situation

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