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Australia Katherine's Gorge Health clinic facing closure as owner Peter Spafford races to find buyer

08:43  18 october  2020
08:43  18 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Gorge Health owner Dr Peter Spafford says the town, with a local government area population of almost 10,000, should have a recommended "ideal staffing" Katherine has a public hospital with 10 ED doctors and an Aboriginal Health Service - which is bulk-billing, but no longer accepts patients of

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The health of residents of the large, remote NT town of Katherine was hanging in the balance after the owner of its only private doctor's surgery decided not to renew his lease.

More than 8,600 patients on the books at Gorge Health may end up without a doctor after the practice's owner set October 28 as its last day of operation as a general practice.

Peter Spafford owns the practice but rents the building in which it operates.

He told his landlord not to expect rent from him after November 30, giving him and the other doctor time to tie up loose ends.

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Dr Spafford has offered to continue working at the clinic if someone buys the business in the meantime, but he has no interest in running the show any longer.

The nearest private clinic is in Humpty Doo, 245 kilometres northwest of Katherine and 31 kilometres southeast of Darwin.

Patient and Katherine resident of 39 years Peter Farnden was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2018 and requires weekly check-ups, as does his wife.

"We've had medical assistance for the whole family all the years we've been here, and we certainly wouldn't want to have see this closed down and not have anything," he said.

"It means we probably would have to go to the hospital or make frequent trips to Darwin.

"It won't be good for the town, because there's a whole lot of older people here that fear for it."

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In the waiting room

Patient Shirley Crane has been a patient for 11 years and has been writing letters to federal ministers, Territory ministers, local members, and the media.

"Nobody's interested," she said.

"Nobody actually seems to see a private GP clinic as part of the health network.

"This is the only access to primary health care for most of the non-indigenous residents of the town.

"So there are a lot of us that are very worried.

"We don't know what's going to happen beyond the closure."

Nearby Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service has several doctors but only serves the Indigenous population.

"We have a lot of elderly citizens here and there are people who are deaf, there are people who are disabled," she said.

"And we keep being told the telehealth is just a wonderful option for us.

"But for those people, it's not. They can't access it.

"So I guess it'll be a trip to Darwin."

Preventative maintenance

Dr Spafford is negotiating a buyer but says he won't know if there's a sale until October 27 — a day before the clinic is due to close.

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And if the sale falls through?

"I think that's going to have to be very much to the Northern Territory Government and the primary health network," he said.

"Without a general practice, they would all have to front up to the hospital, which is government health services.

"And so it then becomes a government problem to look after the health of this town or the primary health of this town.

"What we try to do is to try and prevent people from getting sick in the first place."

Mind the gap

Primary Health Network NT chief executive Gill Yearsley has been working on a solution with the NT Health Department, including liaising with potential buyers.

"There may be a gap between when Gorge Health closes its doors at 36 First Street and when an interim service can be operational, however we are doing our best to avoid that," she said.

NTPHN has offered to continue the lease of the building to secure the surgery in case a new operator enters after October 28.

Defence, which operates nearby Tindal RAAF base, is working with stakeholders.

"(It's) a significant issue that will impact not only Defence families, but also residents of Katherine and surrounding areas," Ms Yearsley said.

For emergencies, the nearby Katherine Hospital has 44 doctors at time of writing, with 11.5 vacant positions covered by locums.

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This is interesting!