HEALTH is front of mind for most right now, and that was certainly the case at this week's Kempsey Shire Council meeting as they heard about a perceived shortage of general practitioners at South West Rocks.
Representatives of the Facebook group, Voices of South West Rocks Community, met with council managers in April, when they raised concerns over a South West Rocks (SWR) doctor shortage.
From there they approached Federal Member for Cowper, Pat Conaghan, and met with the MP on April 22 when they were advised The Rocks was no longer a Distribution Priority Area (DPA).
"In 2019, prior to the last election, Cowper lost the DPA because of the modified Monash model but kept Kempsey as the only exemption to that," Mr Conaghan confirmed to the Argus.
When discussing this issue at this week's council meeting, mayor Liz Campbell explained contact had been made with Mr Conaghan on May 27, advocating for the reinstatement of the DPA status for The Rocks.
"We know that in the Kempsey Shire, like most shires in regions, we suffer from a lack of medical professionals," Cr Campbell said.
"One of the significant things the Country Mayors' Association is lobbying for is a Rural and Regional Minister for Health, similar to a federal level.
"We need to continue, at every opportunity we have, to advocate for more medical professionals in this area.
"We've already written to our local member, Pat Conaghan, and I've spoken to (newly appointed federal Minister for Regional Health) Dr David Gillespie, he's aware of it but a letter would assist with that advocacy."
Council added to their recommendations from item 7.1 that:
'Council continues to advocate with appropriate federal and state ministers and shadow ministers for improved access to medical services including the reinstatement to the Distribution Priority Area scheme where appropriate.'
The Federal Government's DPA scheme identifies areas where there is a shortage of doctors and aligns international medical graduate GPs to work in those areas.
Council's agenda item explained the loss of the DPA classification has had an impact on the ability to attract doctors to the town, with a flow-on affect to GP access in Kempsey.
'Based on a recent members' survey of the NSW Country Mayors' Association, health is one of the three major priority areas identified for rural NSW,' the item noted.
'At the May 2021 Country Mayors' meeting the issue was a significant point, primarily recognising that there are large differences between health services provided in large cities and the services available to the regional, rural and remote parts of NSW.'
Mr Conaghan confirmed that he's been in discussion with health authorities about the case for reinstatement.
However, the Nationals leadership spill has seen those discussions postponed as Dr Gillespie takes on his newly assigned position.
"As soon as I started this role people told me the shortage of doctors is an issue," Mr Conaghan said.
"I went and saw Mark Coulton who was the rural health minister and minister for health Greg Hunt.
"A meeting with the distribution advisory group was organised last week but had to be postponed due to the leadership spill.
"I'll be meeting with him (Dr Gillespie) to ensure Cowper, particularly South West Rocks, gets back its DPA.
"I've spoken to mayor Campbell about this and told her I'll keep pushing this until we get it because you can't have a population of over 5000 and growing at South West Rocks with two doctors whose books are closed.
Mr Conaghan said the desired date for that next meeting will be in August.
A request for comment was made to Voices of South West Rocks Community representatives.
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