Medical centre to stay shut for months
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
A BID to allow doctors to remain in Toodyay until at least February has been rejected.
The Wheatbelt Health Network (WHN) confirmed instead that it will quit the Alma Beard Medical Centre on November 30.
The Shire of Toodyay asked WHN last month if it could delay leaving until February while the shire advertised for new doctors.
According to a shire report last month, the request was declined four days later.Read more
The shire had earlier agreed to a WHN request for a three-week delay in publicly announcing the shock closure while its Northam-based CEO was on leave.
Next month’s removal of GP services in Toodyay means local physiotherapy and pathology services will also cease.
Local patients will instead have to travel to Northam or Midland to see a GP or access other medical services such as blood tests.
The shire has been unable to find new doctors in time to keep the busy centre open.
It had provided WHN with free rent worth $38,500 a year and also paid for medical centre power, water and other costs.
The shire had also paid for fit-out expenses when WHN started leasing the ratepayer-owned medical centre in 2012.
Shire CEO Suzie Haslehurst reported to last month’s council meeting that WHN would retain patient records but had agreed to transfer them free of charge to new GPs.
She said one GP had contacted the shire about operating locally as a private business “with significant support from the shire”.
Two others living in Toodyay had also said they would be interested in working locally.
The shire had been contacted by allied health service providers, including for physiotherapy treatment.
The Wheatbelt Primary Health Network had offered to help the shire assess GP credentials and proposals.
Ms Haslehurst said the shire’s previous 2012 contract with WHN did not fit any of the four business models provided by medical support agency Rural Health West.
Most remote WA local government authorities owned their own general practices which were operated by a principal GP.
The Shire of York did not provide any subsidy or support for local GP services, while Northam and Chittering provided minimal support in the form of a rental subsidy.
A report to last month’s council meeting said that a suitable GP business model for Toodyay had yet to be decided.
Ms Haslehurst told The Herald later that it would take at least four months for the shire to advertise and establish a new GP clinic in Toodyay.
The shire was currently in the process of drafting documents and advertising tenders based on professional health services advice.
It was also continuing to lobby Federal and State Governments to raise awareness of the “increasing impost on regional local governments to provide GP and allied health services”.
The council had not budgeted this year to fund new GP services beyond the existing subsidy provided to WHN.
Any additional cost may require the council to consider amending its recent 2021-22 budget which was adopted in August.
Ms Haslehurst said any significant subsidy to attract new doctors to Toodyay may require rate rises.
If this was the case, she recommended that ratepayers should first be consulted to determine if they wanted to pay more to keep local doctors and other health services operating in Toodyay.