GRANTVILLE residents have been crying out for a doctor to set up shop in town for years but, now such a service has been offered, some don’t particularly want it. Wonthaggi Medical Group (WMG) recently announced it will trial a limited general practice service at the town’s transaction centre, starting yesterday, July 22. The plan is for one doctor to be available each Monday during school hours, with the possibility of expanding the service to two days a week if the trial goes well.
It all sounds like a positive announcement for residents in the Waterline area, but the announcement has received a lukewarm reception. For the past year, two nurse practitioners, provided by Bass Coast Community Health Service (BCCHS), have been seeing patients five days a week in Grantville and two days at Corinella. Grantville and District Business Association president and local resident, Helen Zervopoulos, said locals are worried the introduction of a doctor could do more harm than good. “Though we would all agree it would be great to have a full-time doctor service in Grantville, the presence of a doctor at the Transaction Centre once a week will serve to weaken the case of the ongoing need for the nurse practitioner,” Ms Zervopoulos explained. “If BCCH is not successful in securing the funding for another term, it would mean that instead of having access to medical services five days a week, we would end up with a one-day-a-week service.”
Glen Forbes resident Michele Fulwell is also concerned. “We’ve had a great relationship with the nurse practitioners – they have been absolutely brilliant,” Michele said. “But bringing a doctor in will endanger what we’ve already got and it could set us back years if it doesn’t work out.” It would be a different story if the doctor is able to work in unison with the nurses, Michele says. “I’d rather see a doctor working in conjunction with the nurses as a specialist.” WMG’s business manager, John Turner, says a visiting GP can work “together, not in opposition” with the nurse practitioners. “We don’t see it as compromising the nurse practitioners in any way,” Mr Turner said. “We hope (the doctor) would be working closely to augment that service.” Mr Turner said his group had been in discussions with Bass Coast Shire Council “for some time” about providing a doctor service at both San Remo and Grantville. “For the moment, the San Remo side of things is on the back-burner but we haven’t given up on that,” he said. “We have a lot of patients from Grantville who attend our (Wonthaggi) practice. “We decided to do this trial as it makes sense for both us and the patients.”
Mr Turner pointed out that nurse practitioners have limited prescribing abilities, and that a doctor would be able to review patients seen and prescriptions handed out by the nurses. He said WMG is also interested in gauging whether a permanent service for Grantville is viable.
“This is just testing the waters,” he said. “We’ve signed a lease for 12 months and we should quickly be able to see what the reaction from local people is.” Mr Turner confirmed that the Grantville GP appointments would be bulk-billed for all health-care card holders, pensioners and children under 16. Bass Coast Shire Council’s acting community and economic development director, Antoinette Mitchell, said the council has been working on getting a GP service back at the Transaction Centre ever since Phillip Island Medical Group withdrew from a similar program two years ago. “The original grant for the building of the Transaction Centre was contingent in having a medical doctor operating there,” Ms Mitchell said. She said the new GP and nurse practitioners will work together. “This isn’t a competition,” she said. “We’ll be monitoring the programs over time and see what’s best for the community.”
BCCHS chief executive, Kirsty Evans, said her organisation is “absolutely committed” to the nurse practitioners service and is currently working on finding ways to secure Federal Government funding for the program into the future. She said there is currently funding to see the program through to the end of June 2014. “We think a doctor coming in is a complementary service,” Ms Evans said. “But it’s about there being enough work there for everyone. “So long as the community is still comfortable in accessing the nurse practitioners for some of their health needs, I think the two (services) can work together very comfortably.” Ms Evans added she’s “absolutely delighted” with how the Waterline community has responded to the nurse practitioners service. “It’s a unique model and a showcase of how successful nurse practitioners can be, particularly in rural areas,” she said.