Australia's medical industry is under pressure in the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia's medical industry is under pressure in the coronavirus pandemic.

The unlikely victims of our COVID downturn

Desperate doctors are surviving on JobKeeper handouts, and sacking nurses and receptionists as COVID-19 scares away patients.

More than 385,000 workers in health care and social assistance are relying on the Federal Government's JobKeeper payment, latest Treasury statistics reveal.

Medical clinics are among 86,000 businesses in the health sector that have pocketed the wage subsidy in April - making up nearly 10 per cent of the applicants.

Doctors on the front line of the pandemic have had to cut work hours, close clinics or shed staff due to lockdowns and panicky patients.

Royal Australian College of GPs Queensland chairman Bruce Willett yesterday warned that some rural clinics might close permanently.

"GP surgeries have been doing it tough,'' he said.

"Some practices are thinking about closing, especially in rural centres and smaller towns in the north of Queensland.

"Those practices were marginal beforehand, particularly if they were bulk-billing - we will see some practices close.

"I do know of some doctors who were on JobKeeper and a lot of practices have put off receptionists and nurses.''

Dr Willett said some older GPs, at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, had switched to "telehealth'' phone and video calls which earn them less than a face-to-face consultation. 



"I anticipate some (GPs) will go back to work part-time,'' he said.

"Patients have been putting off getting routine checks, things like heart disease or diabetes that need regular monitoring, and we're not seeing people do bowel screenings.''

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Perry said hospitals had cancelled routine surgery during the lockdown, and other patients "stayed away in droves''.

Dr Perry, an ear, nose and throat specialist, said working part-time "my income ... didn't cover my costs''.

"I'm not complaining, because I know some specialists who didn't have a public (hospital) session were earning nothing,'' he said.

 "A lot of people in their 40s have a sizeable mortgage and they might have bought a new car, thinking they would be fine for the next 20 years.

 "Most GPs earn a salary that is the same as a high school teacher.

 "Doctors who've got their own businesses barely have sick leave, let alone holiday or COVID leave, and they've been doing badly for two or three months.''

 Dr Perry said telehealth consultations bulk-billed at $35 a session did not cover the cost of paying rent, nurses and receptionists.