Doctor Wait Times

Reporter: Graeme Butler

We all know how frustrating it can be in the waiting room of your family doctor, but these days just getting an appointment can be half the battle.

Dr Steve Wilson is chair of the AMA's council on general practice. He says doctors are in short supply.

"I think everybody in Australia now knows that there is a significant shortage of general practitioners which has come about because of previous policy. Fortunately there's been some change but it will be a while yet before we manage to plug that shortfall".

In the meantime that shortfall is being plugged here at the emergency departments of our major hospitals and they're struggling as it is without the added burden of patients who really don't need hospital emergency care. Hospitals estimate around 10% of patients at emergency could have been treated by a GP.

To find out how long is too long when it comes to seeing a doctor; we've surveyed appointment times across the state for a standard consultation.

We tried 24 surgeries and the wait at some was staggering; up to six days. A long time when you're sick.

Three of the surgeries we tried said they weren't taking any new patients and only two of the clinics we called could fit us in today. One in Albany and one in Gosnells.

Allowing for another day wait, only four surgeries could get us in the following day. One was in Karratha where the fee was a stunning $98 and the others in Mirrabooka, Applecross and North Perth.

At a similar number of surgeries we were expected to wait for two days to see the doctor. Port Hedland, Armadale, Cottesloe, Stirling, and Subiaco.

While a couple of days wait might be okay there were still surgeries where the wait was much longer. At Beechboro and Cannington the wait was three days to see a doctor.

At a Scarborough surgery we contacted the wait was four days.

The wait was five days at South Fremantle and Thomsons Lake.

Returning the worst score card at a six day wait were surgeries in Joondalup and Woodvale.

Today the Health Department launched an on-line service where you can check the number of people currently waiting at our hospitals emergency departments and the length of time you might be expected to wait yourself. It's the first of its kind in Australia. There's also another first for the W.A health scene, clinics staffed not by doctors but by nurse practitioners.

Louise Stewart has just launched the first of her Revive clinics in Perth. She says nurse practitioners like Lee Hansen are able to write some prescriptions for drugs like broad spectrum anti-biotics and write medical certificates.

"I'm the same as a normal nurse but I also have additional training. Nurse practitioners now come out with a master's degree and it's another two years of university education and you also do an internship".

However this concept has received a cool response from the AMA. It sees team based health care in a different light.

At the moment if you visit a Revive clinic you'll have to wear the full $65 cost of the visit and prescriptions. Nurse Practitioners services aren't covered by Medicare or the PBS.