After-hours medical service faces closure
The Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service, which has been providing GP services weeknights and weekends to the local community for over 50 years, is facing imminent closure.
Medical Service director Dr Paul Duff said that, unless funding can be found, the service which sees around 3000 patients a year will have to close on Thursday, September 7.
"We did hear that some sort of interim offer to allow us to stay open a couple of extra weeks was on the table, but no one has confirmed this and we don't know if the amount is enough to keep the doors open.
"As a result, we were forced to give all our staff notice that we will be closing on September 7.
"It is almost impossible to work out who in fact is making this decision about our funding.
"We keep on being told to expect an answer but the most recent excuse we have received was that someone involved in the decision making process from the federal department was on leave."
"A big part of the problem is that we are not dealing with the Federal Government directly but rather via Coast and Country Primary Care via the Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network with the Department of Health at the end of the chain of Chinese whispers."
Last week Federal Member for Robertson Dr Gordon Reid told Peninsula News he had "made urgent representations to Federal Health Minister Mr Mark Butler, and underscored the importance of this vital service for our community".
He said he had also been in touch with the regional Primary Health Network and was awaiting a full update on the future of the Woy Woy After Hours Service.
Dr Reid said, as an emergency doctor at Wyong Hospital, he understood the consequences of the service discontinuing.
He said that was why he had raised this matter urgently with the appropriate stakeholders.
Dr Duff said the non-profit After Hours Medical Service, run by community-minded doctors, was able to offer services not available elsewhere.
"We see many patients who say they can't get in to see other GPs at all.
"We see many from practices which are not accessible after hours or where patients have to wait a week or more to see a GP."
He said the service was able to respond within an hour or so, "compared to the eight- to 12-hour wait they might expect at Gosford Hospital's Accident and Emergency".
Among the "more immediate and urgent problems" seen by the service were "lacerations, embedded fish hooks, pieces of metal stuck in peoples eyes, pneumonias, chest pain consistent with blood clots and heart disease, bites and children in pain from infections and injuries".
"All of these people we usually see within an hour or so.
"The service almost universally continues to bulk bill," he said.
Dr Duff said the funding bodies had been aware for at least 12 months that the service was unsustainable without further support.
"Providing after hours care has always been regarded as a vital part of what GPs do but it has never been profitable.
"For decades, our not-for-profit service has been dependent on government funding, a dependency that has become greater and greater as the Medicare rebate has fallen further and further behind the cost of providing the service," said Dr Duff, who has co-ordinated the service for the last 25 years.
He said the service had cut back to be the leanest possible.
"Even so, a reduction in our funding a couple of years ago has meant the service has been going backwards, only surviving by eating into contingency savings built up over many years.
"The funding being offered is not increasing at all and with the sky rocketing costs of insurances, software licences, and wages we have no chance of making ends meet."
Without increased funding, the service will close at the end of September.
"I think we will be missed," said Dr Duff.
Media release, 25 Jul 2023
Paul Duff, Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service
Media statement, 31 Jul 2023
Gordon Reid, Member for Robertson