Medical clinics in Tasmania are on a knife's edge as they struggle to recruit general practitioners outside the major centres, a group of rural doctors has warned.
The medical industry is concerned many rural clinics are struggling to make ends meet, and clinics are exploring alternative ways to be managed.
Dr Natalie Burch, the longest serving GP in Scottsdale in Tasmania's north-east, said her clinic was forced to reach out to a national healthcare service provider.
"We were really looking at the long-term viability of the practice and we had been struggling along for many years," she said.
"About three doctors all left within a short period of time and that made things more difficult than usual."
Dr Burch said "looking down the track, I just envisioned this ongoing struggle".
Ochre Health acquired the Scottsdale Doctors Surgery in April and will continue its outreach service in Bridport.
"We tried lots of different things but this seemed to be the only way of making sure that Scottsdale had a viable medical centre into the future," Dr Burch said.
"Ochre's already been supplying us with continuous locums for the last nine months, which we couldn't do ourselves.
"They've got a bigger bargaining power, they've got a bigger pool of doctors, and they can advertise — advertising is quite expensive and difficult to maintain."
Co-founder of Ochre Health Medical Centres and chairman Dr Ross Lamplugh said rural general practices were under pressure.
"What we're seeing is that small rural general practices are coming under financial pressure because they're small and they're also finding it harder and harder to recruit
doctors," he said.
"Scottsdale is a fantastic example of where a group of local doctors didn't wait for it to be too late.
"In quite a few of practices we've taken on in the past, people wait until it's too late, the doctors implode, it gets all too hard, they're working way too hard, they don't get any and they move on and suddenly a town is left with no doctors."
The nearby Lilydale GP clinic closed last year before reopening under a different owner.
Dr Lamplugh said managing some small clinics in Tasmania would not be viable for Ochre Health.
"Lilydale has been run under a number of models but most recently it was run by a practice group and they found that trying to run that practice as an outreach practice was just too difficult, and they couldn't do it, and we wouldn't be able to do it either," he said.
Rural towns 'need GPs more than ever'
RACGP Tasmanian chairwoman Dr Jenny Presser said 60 per cent of rural practices were actively advertising for staff.
"In some circumstances when practices have been really struggling, then it becomes attractive to sell that business to a corporate like Ochre," she said.
"The advantage then is that the practice is actually open and there is a practice there for the community to attend. That's got to be better than the practice closing."
Demographer Lisa Denny said Tasmania was aging quicker than the rest of the country.
"Within Tasmania, we also have areas that are aging at faster rates than other areas and they tend to be in the more regional and remote and rural areas," she said.
"Obviously aging populations are going to require much more health services than other types of populations.
"The key to be able to service and look after the smaller areas is being able to make sure they have access to those services, whether that's in the location itself or being able to have transport or appropriate ways to access services."
Dr Lamplugh said it was a crucial time to have medical services in rural areas with an aging population.
"Our rural areas have never needed their GPs more than they do now, and it's exactly when they're struggling to get them," he said.
This article was published and provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.