BRANXTON will lose one of its three doctors on Friday, and he’s unlikely to be replaced unless a wrangle over a federal government Medicare provider number can be sorted out.
Paul Innis told The Argus it was with a great sense of guilt he had decided to move on and he was hopeful the issue over his replacement could be resolved before he left.
Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon has asked Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to intervene by reviewing the area’s Medicare provider number boundaries.
“The government offers incentives to attract doctors to rural and regional areas and an anomaly appears to exist around here that is in desperate need of review,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Dr Innis said an arbitrary boundary divided the main Branxton township from East Branxton and the neighbouring village of Greta.
“Our medical surgery is in Branxton, but if it were in East Branxton or Greta there’d be no trouble replacing me,” Dr Innis said.
“Logic would say that Branxton should not have been excluded from easier access to (Medicare) provider numbers, but it’s been frustrating dealing with bureaucrats who are looking at a line on a map.
“We have an overseas-trained doctor who wants to come here and has applied for a provider number, and Joel Fitzgibbon has tried to get things changed.”
Dr Innis said he hoped the impasse could be overcome by Friday.
Mr Fitzgibbon said it shouldn’t be hard for all the Branxton community to have access to good health care.
It was unfortunate that the wheels of bureaucracy sometimes moved slowly, he said, and that was why he had asked for a ministerial review.
The Argus understands that the provider number affects the amount Medicare pays for particular health services. For example, the Medicare rebate for a 15 minute doctor’s consultation for the patient of a doctor without a number may be $21, whereas it may be $35 for the patient of a doctor with a number.
Dr Innis said the issue had not only soured his leaving but had tinged the situation with irony as the federal government had recently granted the Branxton Medical Centre principal Dr Larry Jongbloed $500,000 to expand the surgery.
“That’s going ahead, yet a bureaucratic mistake means it’s going to be harder for him to find a doctor than if the surgery was located just down the road in East Branxton,” Dr Innis said.
“Branxton will go from three to two doctors unless we can get a provider number and I think that’s unfair for the community.”
Mr Fitzgibbon confirmed the $500,000 grant, saying it would allow the medical centre to provide more space to take in university graduates and allied health professionals to focus on preventative medicine.
Putting the controversy aside, Dr Innis said his decision to move was one of the hardest in his life.
Professional burnout and personal reasons, including a desire to reduce working hours to spend more time with his wife Lee and sons Aden and Ethan were the main motivation. Dr Innis was born in Manly, trained in Sydney and began his career in Wollongong and Sydney hospitals before moving to live in his wife’s home town, Branxton, in 1998.
He worked at a Singleton Heights surgery for five years and did regular 24-hour on-call work in the Singleton Hospital emergency department until seeking a change of pace and setting up with Dr Jongbloed. He has continued a hospital shift every one or two months since going to Branxton.
He has enjoyed a wide variety of general practice, almost from birth to death and everything else in between.
In fact, Dr Innis holds the position of high priest in the Mormon religion and has run the funeral service for a couple of his neighbours who were not of the same faith.
“As a doctor in a community this size you feel you become part of people’s lives, getting to know them on a very personal level as you’re privy to some of their very personal life events and illnesses that aren’t common knowledge to others in this close community,” he said.
“It’s been very rewarding, appointments can be like catching up with people, it’s a nice relationship.
“And that’s why I’ve had quite a lot of guilt over leaving, you feel as if you’re letting people down or turning your back on them.”
After months of deliberation Dr Innis has signed a six-year contract with a Charlestown medical centre that has almost 20 doctors.
He will continue to live at Branxton.