Locums may be withdrawn from smaller hospitals across Western NSW - like those in Wellington and Narromine - to help manage workloads at the Bathurst Base Hospital after its medical registrar training accreditation was cancelled.
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On Friday, the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) was informed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) that it had withdrawn accreditation for medical registrar training at Bathurst Base Hospital "effective immediately".
This meant, four early-career doctors were withdrawn from the medical roster and had to leave Bathurst to continue their specialist training at other facilities.
Chief executive officer of the WNSWLHD, Mark Spittal, said the district is doing all they can to fill in the gap created by the exiting-registrars and - as a "last resort" measure - may have to withdraw locums from smaller hospitals in the network to fill the roster.
"We have a number of contingencies in place and we are very, very hopeful that all of those will come into play and we will be able to address this in time," Mr Spittal said.
"If we are unable to do that, then our secondary line of approach is we have 38 hospitals across the district; we try to staff them all with medical staff face-to-face because that is our preference.
"Some of our smaller sites, where we do manage to get locums into, we may need to pull some of those locums into Bathurst as a higher priority given its workload."
Locums are non-specialist medical practitioners engaged on a temporary basis to provide cover for an absent member of the permanent non-specialist medical staff.
For smaller hospitals in the network - including those in Wellington, Narromine, Gilgandra, Coonable, Cobar, Condobolin, Bourke and Lightning Ridge - locums are often a lifeline for the few full-time doctors as it allows them to take leave or work more reasonable hours.
"When GP visiting medical officers are unavailable, an alternative is for a locum doctor to provide services for the hospital," the WNSWLHD told the media last year.
"Locums and visiting medical officers can be difficult to source, even with generous remuneration arrangements in place."
Asked which hospitals could be impacted by the withdrawal of locums, the WNSWLHD said they "would not discuss hypothetical situations" and assured they are doing all they can to avoid this outcome.
"Under all circumstances, we work intensively to ensure communities in all areas of our district have access to the services and staff required to provide safe, high-quality care as close to home as possible," a spokesperson for the WNSWLHD said.
"Through a rapid and effective response, interim measures have successfully been put in place at Bathurst Health Service to ensure sufficient medical coverage to care for patients and support junior medical officers without service disruption."
However, during a local radio interview in Bathurst on Tuesday, Mr Spittal conceded permanent replacements have yet to be secured for the Bathurst Base Hospital, meaning the withdrawal of locums is not completely off the cards.
"We are not entirely out of the woods," he said.
"We have got things secured for a number of weeks going forward and we won't stop until we have the hospital accreditation for training registrars restored."
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