Shellharbour welcomes new doctors

Shellharbour's ill and injured take comfort: the doctor is in this winter.The Illawarra's worst-served suburb for general practice has received a boost from rural NSW, with three country doctors setting up shop in the city centre.The influx doubles the Shellharbour GP population and is expected to ease pressure on Shellharbour Hospital and on overrun area clinics with thousands of patients on their books.At the official opening of their new premises on College Ave yesterday, the newcomers, Dr Soheir Abadier, Dr Bahgat Gerges and Dr George Albert, told how red carpet treatment had assured their move to the Illawarra from Dubbo, where a GP crisis also exists.Dr Albert said Illawarra, NSW and federal politicians, the University of Wollongong and the Illawarra Division of General Practice ushered in their arrival after zoning hiccups stymied plans to set up an integrated care model in Dubbo."We weren't offered much help there like we were here," he said."The mayor (then David Hamilton) sent us in his private car looking for sites." An official audit of Illawarra doctor numbers is in progress, however, best estimates provided to the Mercury in October showed Shellharbour had the lowest GP-to-population ratio in the region, with one GP for every 6600 people.Division CEO, Dr Andrew Dalley, said the new clinic would help compensate for a spate of practice closures in the city since 2003."Over the time we have seen five general practices close in the Shellharbour community, we have seen only one open," he said. "Today, the second, the Shellharbour Medical Centre, replaces all four solo GP practices to close, with a brand of medicine that meets the needs of young mums to older patients with chronic and complex illnesses." Dr Dalley said the practice's integrated care model met ideals put forward by the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission. A dietitian and psychologist already working in the region will soon join the centre, which will train new doctors, includes on-site IML Southern Pathology and has rooms for allied health specialists. Member for Throsby Jennie George said the clinic's opening was "a great occasion" for the doctors and for the community. "I think we've shown when the three levels of government work together we can achieve great things for our community," Ms George said.The practice has been seeing patients for two weeks and already has almost 500 names on its books.

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