Health struggles to recruit locums and RNs

MLHD Chief Executive Jill Ludford addressing the media last week.

Tumut Hospital may be without a doctor for at least one day over the New Year period, as the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) works to find a locum doctor.

Additionally, Chief Executive Jill Ludford said that the Covid-19 pandemic has made recruitment harder in the rural healthcare workforce.

Reports earlier this month suggested that Tumut Hospital would be without a doctor from January 1 to 3, however the health district confirmed to The Times that it has secured locum coverage for all dates except January 1.

“This may change as negotiations continue,” Ms Ludford said in a statement last Monday.

In smaller hospitals like Tumut, doctors are employed as Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs). These are doctors who work as General Practitioners in private practice, but are also qualified to work at a hospital. When VMOs are unavailable or take leave for holidays, locum doctors can step in and service the hospital.

“The District has been trying to source a locum for Tumut since October,” Ms Ludford said. “Attracting doctors to work in rural and regional areas continues to be a challenge nation-wide.”

Ms Ludford said that in circumstances where a locum cannot be secured, the MLHD has a Virtual Care service in place, providing a network of virtual medical support around the clock.

“This includes the Critical Care Advisory Service, which provides high level medical support and transport co-ordination, and the Remote Medical Consultation Service, which provides medical support for less urgent cases,” she explained.

“Both these services work with the team at the patient’s bedside to support diagnosis, treatment and, when needed, transfer to another hospital. 

“It is always preferable to have an appropriately qualified doctor working as part of that bedside team however, when this is not possible, our nursing teams are skilled and very experienced at working in tandem with virtual medical services.”

The MLHD urges local residents to continue to present to the Hospital Emergency Departments for urgent assessment and treatment when necessary.

“The ED is staffed with highly trained Registered Nurses who assess and triage patients,” Ms Ludford said.

“The ED has 24-hour access to remote medical consult services if a doctor is not present at the hospital. Senior doctors provide medical assessment and support from presentation to discharge or retrieval to specialist care.”

Meanwhile, during a recent press conference, Ms Ludford was questioned about the Batlow and Tumbarumba MPS’s not currently having two registered nurses rostered on.

“We always have a turnover of staff and that happens regularly,” she answered.

“I think when you’ve got small sites such as Baltow and Tumbarumba, registered nurses are really hard to get to go to small communities, particularly where the work is largely aged care.

“If there are vacancies in rosters we always look to get agency staff or to use casual staff, or to have people who work part-time working up.”

Ms Ludford said that the health district is committed to filling rosters, whilst acknowledging the anxiety felt in smaller communities.

“The rural workforce issues post-Covid have changed, it’s much harder for us to now recruit staff, secure staff and particularly around agency nurses and locum doctors, it’s much harder than it usually is,” she said.

“We are committed to filling rosters and we always do, but it does, I think, sometimes cause some anxiety for some of those smaller communities.”