A CANBERRA anaesthetist has raised concerns this week that patients at Queanbeyan Hospital are at higher risk of serious complications during surgery than Canberra patients due to the Hospital's reliance on GP anaesthetists.
The anaesthetist- who did not want to be named- said Queanbeyan patients were being anaesthetised by less qualified doctors than those available in Canberra, including during delicate obstetrics procedures.
The comments go to the different resources available at rural and metropolitan hospitals. Rural hospitals like Queanbeyan Hospital often rely on GP anaesthetists- who undergo a one-year training course rather than the five-year course required to become a specialist anaesthetist- due to the scarcity of specialists in country areas.
However, the doctor said Queanbeyan did have access to specialists from across the border. "The thing is that ten minutes up the road, you've got people with five times as much training who are willing to go there [to Queanbeyan].
If you were a patient, you could have someone who's had a lot of experience, or they could have someone who's had one year of experience.
"They do obstetrics at Queanbeyan, and if I was a patient getting a caesarean, I'd just want someone more skilled having said that, I don't think the public quite gets the difference," the doctor said.
"A lot of the public don't think an anaesthetist is a medical specialist: they think they're some sort of nurse or someone there in the background. But when something goes wrong, you'd want a fully qualified anaesthetist," the doctor said.
Queanbeyan Hospital employs four full-time anaesthetists in total- all GP anaesthetists- under the management of a specialist anaesthetist consultant based at Canberra Hospital, who can travel to Queanbeyan when needed.
Hospital health services manager Kim Bradshaw said that the current system was safe for patients operated on at Queanbeyan, and that in the most serious cases, the patient would be transferred to Canberra Hospital for treatment.
"Queanbeyan is classed as a rural hospital, hence why we do have historically GP anaesthetists, who are qualified to do what they do. But we also do have a consultant anaesthetist- who's a specialist- from across the border who works with us," she said.
Ms Bradshaw also said there wasn't the workload to employ more qualified anaesthetists at the moment.
"For me to bring any more anaesthetists in would be a little bit inappropriate, because I don't have any more work to give them at the moment. So it's a bit of a mute argument really," she said.
"The GP anaesthetists we're working with at the moment have demonstrated capability with the patients they've seen. Anything out of their scope or that they're unsure about they liaise with our specialist anaesthetist, and if there's a case that's more complex than that, they'd bring him in and he'd do it.
"I'm very comfortable with it [the staff mix]. A couple of years ago we actually advertised for specialised anaesthetists and there wasn't that much interest I can tell you," she said.
Dr James Bradley, who chairs the Professional Issues Advisory Committee for industry group Australian Society of Anaesthetists (ASA), said the body was supportive of accredited GP anaesthetists being used in areas where specialists were scarce, and said it was appropriate to use them in many relatively routine procedures.
"The ASA is quite supportive of GPs, especially in areas where the case mix or other circumstances won't support the full-time use of specialists," Dr Bradley said.
"It's not to say that your caesarean section can't go horribly bad and all of a sudden that patient's in an ambulance on their way to another hospital. Certainly we think obstetrics is being undersold from the point of view of the risk.
"[But] we wouldn't expect Queanbeyan hospital to suddenly say that these guys can do thoracic and neuro [surgeries] for instance, because they're not trained to do that. But for a run of the mill stuff? Yeah, we support that."
Dr Bradley also said there was a large group of specialist anaesthetists currently in training in the Capital region, and that Queanbeyan Hospital could look forward to more on-staff specialists over the next couple of years.