West Armidale Medical Centre
West Armidale Medical Centre has been managed by the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia (formerly known as Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS)) since 2022.
The Foundation purchased the West Armidale Medical Centre from Dr Maree Puxty and Dr Terry Bolshen after being approached by their selling agent and advised that Dr Puxty and Bolshen would be leaving Armidale in February 2023.
Dr Puxty and Bolshen had spent considerable time and effort to try to sell the practice to ensure continuity of care for their patients, including asking other Armidale practices if they wanted to buy the patient medical records and take over their care. However, due to rural doctor shortages no-one was prepared to take over responsibility for so many patients. As a result, more than 3,000 residents in Armidale were at risk of losing their local GP service.
As a charity established to help keep health care services in rural and regional communities going, the Foundation stepped in and purchased the practice from Dr Puxty and Dr Bolshen because we believe that sustaining GP practices in places like Armidale is essential.
Over the last decade, Australia's medical workforce policies have made the rural doctor crisis worse. Despite billions invested in city organisations to solve the rural doctor crisis, fewer than 15% of Australian medical graduates now want to become GPs (down from 50%) and burdensome supervision requirements mean that many willing rural doctors cannot train in rural areas because of the loss of qualified rural GP supervisors.
We put a bold plan to the Commonwealth government, with the support of the local members, to restructure the West Armidale Medical Centre as both a health services and training centre for new rural GPs. While this would require ongoing funding for clinical supervisors from the government, our experience told us that this would be a solution to attracting GP supervisors who wanted to shift over to teaching to support a cohort of GP Registrars and International Doctors who wanted a career in rural and regional practice.
Despite support from the local members, and the common-sense nature of the plan, the Commonwealth Government declined the funding request. Instead it committed hundreds of millions of dollars to a HECS debt rebate scheme for medical students that no-one in rural Australia believes is going to make any difference to the rural doctor shortage.
As a result, we now face the prospect of 3,000 people in Armidale and surrounding towns losing access to primary health care at a time when the needs of rural and regional communities are growing.
As a charity, 100% of what we make goes to subsidise services in rural and remote communities. Our staff are working tirelessly every day to ensure ongoing access to health care where and when it is needed.
We will continue to work with the Armidale and surrounding communities to keep West Armidale Medical Centre going after February 2023 by calling on our governments to support common-sense plans designed by rural people, and for rural people, to address rural medical workforce shortages.