After-hours medical service announces closure
The Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service has announced that it will be closing this Friday, September 29, having operated for 50 years.
The service secured two years' fixed Federal funding to cover costs, but has been unable to find enough GPs to staff the service.
"The number contributing is now so small that we cannot reliably stay open, meaning we can't sign the funding contract to continue," said service director Dr Paul Duff.
"For a few years now, we have been depending on a small group of doctors doing much more than their fair share to staff the service.
"This year has seen a number of those doctors become unavailable, either because of retirement, ill health or because they are leaving the Peninsula."
The last clinic will run between 7pm and 10pm this Friday and will be staffed by Dr Duff himself.
The announcement coincides with the expected announcement tomorrow of the establishment of a Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Umina.
Dr Duff said that the service had been set up in 1972 as a cooperative amongst the local doctors.
"At that time, they all were owners or part owners of their own small general practices and shared the work of staffing Woy Woy Hospital.
"This made them deeply committed members of the community and made working together to share the burden of after hours care just good sense," he said.
The after-hours cooperative of GPs was formed shortly after Woy Woy Hospital opened in 1972.
"Since then, we have had Gough Whitlam's Medibank and Bob Hawke's Medicare, the evolution of General Practice into a recognised specialty branch of medicine, the introduction of practice accreditation, the large scale of corporatisation of general practice and 40 years of Medicare neglect by successive Federal Governments," Dr Duff said.
"The small GP-owned practices that were at the heart of the service have all but disappeared from the Peninsula and the number of doctors who have been prepared to step into the breach of those older GPs as they have retired or wound down their practices has shrunk year by year.
"We have been appealing to the local practices for years to step up and to encourage their younger doctors to contribute but in spite of this more and more of the workload has been taken up by existing doctors with less and less fresh blood coming in," Dr Duff said.
"We have worked very hard over the last few months to keep the service running," he said.
"We are very grateful for the support we have received from our patients and the local community in the recent battle to lobby Government for the funding.
"In the end, the Federal Government did offer us a two-year funding agreement linked to a modest increase.
"This would probably have been enough to keep us going, although the rising costs of things like insurance and wages would have made this a challenge because the funding was fixed for those two years.", he said.
Dr Duff said the dwindling number of doctors prepared to work with the service had been "a looming issue that has been threatening us for years".
"You can't run a cooperative if no one is prepared to cooperate," he said.
Media release, 26 Sep 2023
Paul Duff, WW AHMS