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GPs ease pain

Tuesday, 22nd February, 2011

SKILLING UP: Dr Ramu Nachiappan with University of Sydney medical student Cameron Spenceley and Dr Namita Rewani. SKILLING UP: Dr Ramu Nachiappan with University of Sydney medical student Cameron Spenceley and Dr Namita Rewani.

Bulk-billing win

By Gina Wilson 

Waiting times are down to less than one day with the appointment of the city's fourth bulk billing doctor.

Broken Hill had almost reached crisis point last month when patients seeking bulk billing appointments had to wait almost four weeks to see a doctor.

But with the addition of a fourth bulk billing doctor at Nachiappan Surgery this month, that time has been reduced to within 24 hours.

"At this stage we have appointments available today and tomorrow," Nachiappan Surgery practice manager Lynley Rebbeck said yesterday.

The city's bulk billing crisis skyrocketed last year with the suspension from practice, and subsequent retirement, of two long-term doctors, John Rolleston and Phil Chapman. Both had a history of bulk-billing their patients.

The issue was compounded because the only other privately-run GP practice in the city, Outback Family Practice, was "not a registered bulk-billing practice".

Outback Family Practice now operates the South Broken Hill surgery, formerly run by Dr Chapman, and has recently acquired the Broken Hill Medical Centre, meaning three of the city's four GP clinics had no bulk billing.

A fourth private practice may open this year, with Dr Biljana Trask awaiting Council approval for a surgery in Williams Street, but it is not known what the bulk billing arrangements would be.

Until then, Nachiappan Surgery's owner, Dr Ramu Nachiappan, said he would remain the only private practice to offer health care to all patients on a non-discriminatory basis.

Dr Nachiappan said there was no longer an excuse for locals to put off seeing the doctor. "Bulk-billing means you've got a health service that's indiscriminate," he said.

"There's no longer an excuse for patients not to see the doctor because we are here and we have four bulk billing doctors." 

Dr Nachiappan also said he hoped the four bulk billing doctors, three of whom were registrars, would take some pressure off the hospital's emergency department.

"That's what I'm hoping. We're trying hard," he said. "In the hospital people will wait four to six hours - here they've got an appointment, they come and we run on time. "It makes a big difference." 

While the city's newest bulk billing doctor, Dr Namita Rewani, is on the books for six months, Dr Nachiappan said he hoped she would return with her husband, who was training as a physician in Brisbane.

Dr Rewani, who trained in England, most recently completed a stint at the children's casualty department at one of Brisbane's largest hospitals, the Mater.

She is no stranger to the bush, previously spending 10 months in Mt Isa.

Dr Rewani said making the move from hospitals to general practice had been rewarding.

"It's interesting, also you know about the patients and do things faster than you can in the hospital, plus there's the continuity of care," she said."It's more fulfilling."

Three other doctors, Chris Tan, Bob Pokoj and Rekha Nagesh, also bulk bill at the surgery.

"My practice is committed to providing general practice services to all not withstanding their financial ability to consult a GP," Dr Nachiappan said.

"The GP registrars play a significant role in this availability of bulk bill services."

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