Departing doctors 

Departing doctors 

Smithton Medical Centre patients can expect an increase in waiting times as the private practice experiences a shortage of doctors. 

The cost of consultations is also expected to rise. 

The King Street practice will be reduced from one part time and six full time doctors to one part time and three full time doctors in January. 

Dr Edwin Barui and Dr Aaron Hawkins, both of whom are general practice registrars, will leave to further their experience while Dr Thiru Thirukkumaran will move to Burnie to be closer to his family. 

Dr Anthony Popiel, Dr Kelechukwu Onumaegbu and Dr Daryl O’Connor will continue to work full time alongside Dr Nicole Anderson who works part time. 

“We’ve never been able to get doctors, this is not new,” Dr Popiel said. 

“There is a reluctance for doctors to work in rural areas and not sufficient incentives for them to do so.” 

Dr Popiel, who trained in Zimbabwe, said the private practice has previously had success in employing overseas graduates. However with federal government policies changing, it is becoming more challenging and expensive to recruit overseas graduates. 

“There are enough doctors in Australia, we are not short on doctors,” Dr Popiel said. 

“It is a distribution problem and this is where the federal government needs to do something to induce people to work in regional areas. 

“There are incentives to work in regional areas but they’re obviously not sufficient.” 

Dr Popiel said a shortage of skilled doctors is being experienced in regional areas around the country. 

“Something has got to give.” 

The state government is aware of the issue, though ultimately as a private practice it is up to Smithton Medical Centre to find the solution. 

“I’m determined that we will remain viable and open,” Dr Popiel said. 

“It’s going to be difficult. We will do what we can and we’re trying to recruit but . . . until such time as we get more doctors, the situation will continue.” 

Dr Popiel admitted patients will be forced to seek medical attention out of the region as the local service will be unable to meet demand. 

Smithton District Hospital will also be impacted by the shortage. For the past 40-odd years Smithton Medical Centre has provided 24/7 support to the local hospital. 

“For the first time we’re not going to be able to do that every single day,” Dr Popiel said. 

“At this stage we’ve told the hospital there is one day a week we can not cover.” 

The surgery will remain open five days a week along with weekend hours. 

A restructure of the bulk billing system may be necessary for the business to remain viable. 

Dr Popiel said at present the practice keeps up with demand, though the loss of three doctors will dramatically change that. 

“We have the capacity for more doctors . . . but generally speaking we’ve been meeting the demand.

“People have always been able to get in on the day to see the doctor on call and I suspect people will still be able to do that.”

However bookings in advance will be restricted. 

Dr Popiel thanked the departing doctors for their dedication over the years and urged community members to have patience in the coming months. 

“There is no end date for when this is going to go away, that’s the problem,” he said. 

“We understand people will experience inconvenience and frustration, we hope they’ll understand.” 

Smithton Medical Centre employs 18 staff members including four nurses. 

Smithton Medical Centre’s Dr Anthony Popiel is urging the community to have patience as the private practice experiences a shortage of staff with three doctors leaving in January.