Doctors called to save after-hours service
Local doctors have been called to put their names on a roster to save the After-Hours Medical Service at Woy Woy Hospital.
If most doctors respond, a commitment of as little as one evening every couple of months could be enough.
"This practice will close if more doctors don't join us," said Dr Paul Duff, a director of the service.
He said the service was operated by a non-profit co-operative of local doctors.
"A few years ago, most of the doctors who worked on the Peninsula shared in the workload of running the after hours service," he said.
"This meant that doctors would do a weekday evening once every one to two months and two to three weekend days per year.
"This was a small extra effort, even for very busy GPs, to make sure that all our patients could access GP care 24/7."
The roster had fallen from more than 40 doctors to "barely a dozen", one in five of the 55 doctors currently working on the Peninsula.
"Some of the doctors on our roster are close to retirement or have retired and are only contributing because of the sense of loyalty they feel to this community and to their colleagues.
"Unfortunately, over the last few years, many local GPs have withdrawn from the service while most of the new GPs to the area have refused to join the cooperative.
"It's hard to maintain this cooperative spirit when others don't cooperate," Dr Duff said.
He said the service was currently operated by four doctors from the Ettalong Medical Centre, two doctors from Providence Medical Umina, four doctors from the Woy Woy General Practice, one doctor from the Woy Way Family Practice and one doctor from the Corner Family Surgery Wyoming.
Dr Duff said the situation had also worsened because of the effect of a change in the relationship between the hospital and the local GPs.
When the service started, the doctors operating the after hours service "also manned the hospital until quite recently".
"This model of local general practitioners co-operating to staff a hospital and an after hours medical service through that hospital is very common in rural and regional Australia.
"A few years ago, however, the Central Coast Local Health District chose to run the hospital with dedicated hospital doctors, limiting the direct support they were allowed to provide us."
Dr Duff said the Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service depended on grant funding, with the support the Federal government via the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network.
He said the Covid pandemic had been "an enormous strain".
"It certainly doesn't help that, for the last two years, we have operated at a loss.
"We would like to return to being able to offer nursing care, but it is financially impossible."
Dr Duff said the service had approached Member for Robertson Dr Gordon Reid and the Health Network "to try to improve our funding to offer the best service possible".
"The after-hours medical service started with the opening of Woy Woy Hospital and has run ever since, meaning that we are also celebrating 50 years of service to the community," said Dr Duff.
"It was set up as a co-operative to bring together the local GPs to help share the workload of caring for the community.
"If this co-operative closes, it is very unlikely that another co-operative will ever open on the Peninsula."
"If this happens there will be nowhere for the patients of the Peninsula to go other than Gosford Hospital or the Bridges After Hours Service at Erina."
He suggested that residents could ask their doctor about their after-hours arrangements and whether they were on the after-hours medical service roster.
Leaflet, 24 Apr 2023
Paul Duff, Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service