It’s been interesting to watch how the various media outlets have been reporting on a campaign by a group of GPs against super clinics, including a protest staged in western Sydney this week.
Many of the reports, whether in the local or the national press seemed to uncritically buy the GPs’ line that super clinics will threaten the integrity of the relationships between GPs and their patients.
Even the Sydney Morning Herald editorial examined the issue as if it was only about patient care.
Only one report that I could find – and perhaps not coincidentally in a publication for doctors – acknowledged that other considerations (ie $$$s) might also be driving the opposition.
Now I am not seeking to be an apologist for the clinics. And you could argue that it’s entirely fair enough that small business people would want to defend their business.
But if we’re going to amplify the concerns of one group with a professional and financial stake at play, then perhaps we should also be reflecting the views of others involved.
Despite the silly name – GP super clinics – the facilities are aimed at promoting multidisciplinary care. So maybe we could also be hearing from the nurses, psychologists or others involved?
Even better if we could get some independent sense from the local community about how well the existing model of general practice is meeting their needs and what they think about the super clinic approach.
I’m sure there are problems around the place with the various super clinics being developed – it would be surprising if there were not, given all the logistical, bureaucratic and professional challenges that are likely to be involved in setting them up.
But the general public may not be aware that there are also some good news stories around.
From what I’ve heard, the one being developed at Shellharbour just south of Wollongong is going to be offering a terrific range of clinical and health promotion services to an otherwise under-served community. Importantly, it will also be a training hub, with postgraduate nurses, GP registrars and medical students onsite.
Those behind it hope that by developing new models of care and flexible, stimulating working environments, the Shellharbour clinic will help recruit and retain health professionals in a needy area.
There’s another good news story to be found at Gunnedah, the north-western NSW town that stakes its claim to fame as poet Mary Mackellar’s birthplace and “Koala Capital of the World”.
It’s not about how federal policy solved a local health need. It’s about how a local community came together to develop a local solutions for their problems – and then got some Federal backing to help realise it.
I wrote recently in Australian Rural Doctor about how the people of Gunnedah have been engaged in an intensive fund-raising campaign over the past 18 months in order to establish an integrated health clinic. The plan is for it to be owned by a not-for-profit, community-owned company, run by community members, health professionals and representatives of local agencies.
The origins of the concept date back four years when a local GP, Dr Grahame Deane, acutely conscious of the perilous state of the town’s health services, began working with various agencies to develop some solutions.
The goal was to create an attractive environment to help with workforce recruitment, while also increasing the town’s chances of “growing its own” by becoming more involved in teaching and training.
But rather than impose his own vision of how to achieve this, a series of community meetings were held, to find out what the locals wanted. The response was overwhelming, with 350 people packed into one forum, and many turned away for lack of space. It turned out that the people of Gunnedah shared Deane’s vision for a community-owned venture.
Deane believes the “absolutely amazing” community support has been critical for the project’s progress. “The important thing is that it is not owned by a doctor, it’s not owned by a corporation, it’s owned by Gunnedah,” he says.
After my story went to press, it was announced that the town had won super clinic funding. Deane rang recently to tell me how delighted he was to get the funding although he admitted that he didn’t much like the “super clinic” name. I heartily agreed with him. Terrible name, but the concept may have more merits than some recent headlines have been suggesting.
And I tell you what – I much prefer the richness of the story out of Gunnedah than the one we’re being told out of western Sydney.