The high turnover of general practitioners in the Latrobe Valley was the most talked about issue raised by residents with Latrobe Valley health advocate Jane Anderson.
Ms Anderson said access to health services, with patients seeing different doctors in the area, was a major concern of residents.
Ms Anderson rode buses between Traralgon, Churchill, Moe and Morwell for more than four days in December and spoke to 70 people to learn about their health concerns.
“People [talked] about doctors changing over so they have to meet a new doctor and tell their story again so that impacts their relationship with the GP,” she told The Express.
Ms Anderson, who was appointed by former health minister Jill Hennessy in May, said she spoke to a diverse range of people on the bus with more than one-in-five being a young person under the age of 25 and one-in-five over the age of 65.
Other issues raised were around social inclusion where there was a demand for more community events, alcohol and drug support, mental health and wellbeing servies and community safety, with people wanting a greater police presence and more safe community spaces.
Ms Anderson collated the information she received and ranked the issues according to how frequently people raised them.
She said people were especially concerned about seeing different GPs as it affected how they related to a new doctor.
“What they talked about was if they are seeing a different doctor they don’t tell the doctor the things that they need to tell them because it’s a new relationship [and] they don’t trust them yet,” Ms Anderson said.
According to Ms Anderson, while the number of GPs in the area was “consistent with the number that you’d expect on a population basis”, the Latrobe Valley’s health outcomes were “disproportionate”.
“Our health outcomes are not, in some areas, meeting the standards of other areas in Victoria so there’s an argument that we need more health services than the ordinary,” she said.
Ms Anderson said she would speak with all stakeholders to discuss the issues and will also send recommendations to the health minister for possible action.
An assistant practice manager at a local clinic said the high turnover of GPs in the area had been an issue for the last 15 years.
“It’s difficult to keep doctors here,” she said.
“I think most of the doctors wanted to go to the city to educate their children, to better schools, and also because it gives their wives more access to retail stores like shopping [centres],” she said.
The assistant practice manager said most of the doctors at the practice were overseas-trained and found there was more support for them in the city “culturally”.
Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said the problem was not only endemic in Latrobe Valley but across Gippsland.
“Across Gippsland there’s a general shortage of GPs who are unable to stay in Gippsland – not just in [the] Latrobe Valley,” she said.
Ms Bath said the Latrobe Valley needed to “market ourselves better” to attract doctors to stay in the area and suggested government could do this by offering “inducement” in the form of financial or specialist accommodation.
She said Latrobe Regional Hospital was facing the same issue with a number of its general practitioners and specialists living on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Ms Bath said the lack of GPs and the high turnover of doctors was putting regional patients at a disadvantage and making people feel “vulnerable” when they didn’t have a continuing relationship with their doctor.