Staff shortages force closure of only Montville medical centre

By Kirra Livingstone

MONTVILLE’S only medical centre has closed due to a chronic staff shortage, forcing residents to travel to Maleny or further for treatment.

Ochre Medical Centre Montville shut its doors in mid-January following a five-month hunt for doctors to staff the centre.

The closure, exacerbated by the town’s status as a ‘regional town’ by the federal Department of Health, comes after a report recommending urgent improvements to regional and rural health networks was released this month.

Ochre Medical Centre’s Queensland Regional Manager Sean Dickson said there were a number of issues behind the forced closure, which he said was hopefully only a temporary measure.

“There’s an incentive payment that is made if you work at a rural doctors practice, it’s not significant but it’s sometimes enough and it depends how a practice is rated by the Modified Monash Model,” he explained. 

According to the Government’s so-called Modified Monash Model (MMM) – which determines the definition of a location as city, rural, remote or very remote – Montville is classed as ‘regional’ and Maleny is classified as ‘rural’, allowing it to offer greater incentives.

“It’s a question for both the state and federal government on how we can encourage and incentivise doctors to have rural working stints,” Mr Dickson said. 

“But that’s dollars and cents, and its only short term, what is the long-term plan is probably the broader question.” 

Local resident, Chris Simons, said he was feeling the impact of the closure saying he was recovering from spinal surgery and required multiple doctor appointments.

“I have to see a doctor and now I have to travel over to Maleny,” Chris said.  

“I can’t drive at the moment because of the surgery, so my wife has to drive… I’m still learning to walk again as is. 

“If I were to use public transport from Montville to Maleny, the bus only comes once an hour.” 

The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, released earlier this month, stated: “Recognising the unique challenges in rural and remote Australia, the report calls for a greater role for Primary Health Networks, including to commission nursing and allied health services to bolster general practice teams in these areas.”

Federal member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said while the MMM status was an issue, the greater concern was the state of Medicare and the lack of support for rural, regional and remote Australian towns. 

“The rural and regional health workforce issues could be addressed if the Albanese Government cleared the backlog of Skilled Regional Visas – and prioritised the applications of skilled healthcare workers the rural and regional communities are crying out for,” he said. 

“The Home Affairs website indicates 90 per cent of skilled regional visas are being processed in 27 months and this is on top of the Labor Government changing the Distribution Priority Areas for overseas trained doctors.” 

He said Montville’s MMM status should be reviewed given the geography of the hinterland.

“While I accept a boundary is designed to clearly define recipients from non-recipients, I have long advocated for special consideration because the drive from Montville takes significantly longer due to such steep terrain,” he said. 

Mr Dickson also highlighted the issues within Medicare and the MMM ratings as they are not indicative of what communities need. 

“Practices are also rated by the MMM … but what it sometimes doesn’t allow for is the true geographic location it’s just typical government putting a line on the map,” he said. 

“The rating is based on the postcode rather than the geographic location, and it’s reviewed every three years which is a long time. 

“Not to include the rating for Maleny and Montville as the same can be challenging. It is not unique to Australia and our practices, that’s for sure.” 

The Department of Health and Aged Care said medical centres had acccess to other federal recruitment schemes.

“There are many reasons why locations and practices have difficulty recruiting practitioners – and the Australian Government funded Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and Rural Workforce Agencies (RWAs) offer direct assistance to practices in recruitment, attraction and navigating the many incentives available,” A department spokesperson told GC&M News. 

Montville joins a growing list of medical practices that have closed on the Sunshine Coast and surrounds, including Imbil Family Medical which is set to permanently close on February 17.