Upper Mountains residents will lose their Katoomba-based radiologist at the end of the year, forcing patients to travel to Lithgow, Springwood or Penrith for specialist treatment.
Dr William Beck, a South African trained doctor who has worked at Castlereagh Imaging for the past three-and-a-half years, will lose his job when the position no longer qualifies as being within a government-decreed district of workforce shortages (DWS).
The Federal Health Department, which determines whether an area qualifies as such a district, said Katoomba was part of the outer western Sydney region which contains several local centres including Penrith, Richmond and Cranebrook.
A spokeswoman for the department said: “The outer western Sydney region is not a DWS for diagnostic radiology because the latest Medicare billing statistics show that this region has better access to Medicare-subsidised radiology services when compared to the national average.”
But Dr Louise McDonnell, chairwoman of the Blue Mountains GP network, said if Dr Beck was lost to the community, there would be a shortage of radiologists, certainly in the Upper Mountains.
“People already have to travel a long way for many health services,” she said. “[Dr Beck’s loss] will have an impact on both the residents and doctors. He’s been a great asset to the community.”
Dr McDonnell said Katoomba had a history of difficulty in attracting specialists because it does not benefit from a rural status and it is too far to commute from Sydney.
While Castlereagh could still run an X-ray service with a radiographer, some procedures that require a radiologist such as X-rays involving dyes, biopsies and joint and back injections may no longer be available at Katoomba.
Of the alternative sites, the closest is Springwood, where the service is only offered part-time. Otherwise patients will have to go Lithgow or Penrith, Dr McDonnell said.
Castlereagh Imaging would not comment to the Gazette about Dr Beck’s circumstances or whether it will still be offering radiology services in Katoomba next year. And Dr Beck said he was unable to comment.