Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell, left, with Wallan Family Practice’s receptionist Melissa and Dr Denis Holland. Labor has pledged to restore Wallan’s status as a distribution priority area for GPs, making it easier for local practices to recruit.

By Colin MacGillivray

MEMBER for McEwen Rob Mitchell has promised Labor will restore Wallan’s status as a distribution priority area, DPA, if it wins next month’s federal election, allowing the town’s medical practices to recruit overseas-trained doctors.

Wallan clinics and residents have complained of a shortage of general practitioners, GPs, in the town since its DPA status was revoked by the Federal Government in 2019.

DPAs aim to identify and redress doctor shortages across Australia, giving them access to overseas-trained doctors and Australian-trained doctors under the Bonded Medical Program.

Wallan doctors last month addressed a Federal Government senate inquiry into the provision of GPs and other primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional areas.

The Federal Government announced it would temporarily reinstate Wallan’s DPA status, but only until July 1.

Wallan Family Practice senior doctor Denis Holland said the town’s non-DPA classification had made it ‘impossible’ to recruit new GPs and the clinic had lost popular doctor Manda Hoghooghi because of the town’s reclassification.

“Because I had an overseas-trained doctor, in the first 10 years they have to work in a regional area. When the government rezoned Wallan she was not able to continue working here,” he said.

“She was reluctant to go and I didn’t want her to go, so it was purely a zoning issue.

“This change would at least give the local practices a chance to recruit, which is a huge relief because before it was practically impossible. Previously we’ve only been able to recruit for a three-month window, and the person might have had to leave on June 30.”

Mr Mitchell said the government’s decision to remove DPA status from Wallan had been ‘bizarre’ and arbitrary.

“We’ve written to [federal Health Minister] Greg Hunt numerous times about it, and it’s fair to say his response rate is beyond slow,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We know doctors are a massive priority for this community and the government just drew a line and said Wallan was out.

“It means the remaining GPs who we’ve relied on for so long and are ingrained in our communities have to work much harder and for much longer, and they’re burning out. We can’t afford to lose them too.”

Mr Mitchell said a shortage of doctors in Wallan also had flow-on effects to Kilmore District Health, which had a smaller pool of doctors to draw from in the region.

He described the government’s decision to temporarily reinstate Wallan’s DPA status for only three months as electioneering.

“It was only just in the period of an election that they’ve said they’ll grant it until the end of June, which is a clear case of them having a plan for an election but not a community,” he said.

“A Labor government would permanently put the DPA back on to help the clinics get more doctors to treat our community.

“This will help reduce waiting times and it means the clinics can advertise to help get the support they need and do it with confidence.”

Liberal candidate Richard Welch was asked for comment but did not respond before deadline.