‘Abyssal work to drive health’: Why this regional doctor can no longer cope

An outback doctor on the Eyre Peninsula has criticized SA Health, saying he can no longer tolerate working in a system that he says has little respect for frontline medical and nursing staff.

Dr. Scott Lewis has been the sole general practitioner in the isolated community of Wudinna for 14 years and was former Vice President of the Rural Doctors Association SA.

He said he felt there was no chance SA Health would change its ways of supporting GPs in the future.

“We have an unsupported health system that does not support the needs of rural areas and have really done an abysmal job of running health, especially on the Eyre Peninsula,” said Dr. Lewis.

Wudinna GP Dr.  Scott Lewis smiles at the camera in his practice waiting room.
Dr. Lewis warned SA Health throughout the pandemic, warning that he would retire unless medical staff were supported in regional areas.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Samantha Jonscher)

Dr. Lewis said he had been contacting SA Health for several years about remuneration issues at regional hospitals and chronic shortage of healthcare staff in the regions.

“This is a problem that has been evolving for over a decade now, it’s a culture that has evolved – a culture of brushing things under the rug.”

Large peasant statue near silos
Wudinna is an isolated agricultural town on the Eyre Peninsula(ABC Eyre Peninsula)

Dr. Lewis said he was frustrated that local GPs in Port Lincoln, south of Wudinna, had been forced to remove their services from the hospital in November last year due to contract disputes with SA Health.

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“Unfortunately, they have been replaced by an extremely variable quality of the workforce.”

He said he had been angry for so long and that his emotional mental and physical health had suffered.

“It’s a manageable thing when you’re supported by a system, but when you do not have that support, that toll becomes unbearable.

“Our society deserves better than that.”

‘Nobody wants to come’

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Rural Council President, Dr. Michael Clements, recently visited regional areas throughout SA.

He said warnings about SA Health’s lack of adequate contracts to keep local GPs working in hospitals were shared around the country’s medical community.

“To be honest, any GP who is considering moving around the country to try another city will not look at SA because of the noise we have heard and what we have heard on earth about these contract disputes. “

Group of doctors talking at once
RACGP Rural Council Chairman, Dr. Michael Clements (center) said the national medical community is aware of contract disputes in regional SA.(Delivered by: Michael Clements)

New contracts on the way

Health Minister Stephen Wade said he was disappointed that Dr. Lewis resigned.

“I think he may currently be vice president of the Rural Doctors Association of SA,” Mr Wade said.

A man wearing a blue suit and purple tie
South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade wants to gain a better understanding of what could have led to Dr. Lewis’ retirement.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“I have often had conversations with Scott [and] I look forward to the next one where I can gain a better understanding of the issues that could have influenced his decision. “

Eyre and Far North Local Health Network CEO Verity Patterson said she was sad to see Dr Lewis go, but respected his decision.

“The challenges that Eyre and Far North face in attracting and retaining physicians are well known, and Scott has been a passionate advocate for improving these schemes,” Ms Patterson said.

“We have listened and learned from him.

Dr. Lewis moves to the Adelaide Hills with his young family and ends in Wudinna on December 31st.

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