There’s over 1700 kilometres between these two pharmacies,  but they’re doing the same thing: hosting a petition to save GP services in their town

Calliope, a town of around 3000 people not far from Gladstone, Queensland, lost its local GP clinic with only days’ warning in late August. The medical centre’s future is currently cloudy, with Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants liquidator Dane Hammond reportedly set to meet creditors this week.

Workers at the medical centre were distraught at the sudden news, and Clare Stone from Alive Pharmacy Calliope says the pharmacy sent flowers and chocolates in sympathy.

Now, the pharmacy is hosting a petition to encourage governments at all levels – local, state and federal – to encourage doctors to move to rural and regional towns to work.

“We were told on the Tuesday, and they finished on the Friday, so we had no indication that there was anything wrong,” Ms Stone told the AJP. (Ms Stone is the Queensland Pharmacy Assistant of the Year 2017, and will compete in the national final next month.)

Clare Stone

Clare Stone.

“We had a phone call from a lady who was new to town; she was very ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, so I said ‘I’ll bring the medicine to you, save you the trip in’. She came in the next day to say thank you, but that she also needed a doctor.

“I said, ‘pop next door, there’s lovely doctors in there’. But she came back 10 minutes later and said she couldn’t make an appointment, they were closing.”

The practice manager had already headed to the pharmacy to let them know about the closure, which according to the Gladstone Observer was possibly due to difficulty attracting specialists.

The pharmacy launched the petition to address the issue of attracting and keeping GPs in regional areas. It now has at least 1000 signatures, says Ms Stone, who is collating signatures from several different outlets and thinks there are likely “1500 to 2000”.

“The louder the noise we make, the more we get listened to,” she says.

“This isn’t about us as a pharmacy. It’s about us as a community. It’s going to hurt us, but at the same time [owner Nick Loukas] wants to see that the community is looked after, that’s why he invested so much into this shop.”

Meanwhile in NSW’s Riverina region, the town of Deniliquin still has GPs, but local pharmacy owner Eric Sim told the AJP that patients need to wait “three to four weeks – so they normally come and see me first”.

Local doctor Ian Dumbrell has launched a petition, hosted by the Eric Sim Pharmacy, Soul Pattinson Pharmacy and Deniliquin Central Clinic, to have the area reclassified as having a District of Workforce Shortage.

Mr Sim told the AJP that “plenty” of people have been simply unable to make a doctor’s appointment in time to have their symptoms addressed.

“A lot of times antibiotics are needed, and so people try to come here to the pharmacy. Some are new residents here and they can’t even see a doctor to get their regular medication.

“So we wanted to get involved in the petition and try to solve the problem. We have about 800 signatures.

“A lot of people are frustrated because you can’t move to a town where you can’t even see the doctor. It’s affecting all the businesses in town – it sends people away.”