Doctors claim FIFO workers “bring diseases”

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Doctors have warned that fly-in fly-out workers are straining medical services and introducing and spreading diseases in mining communities.

In their application to the federal parliamentary inquiry into FIFO work doctors Johann Scholtz and Reyno Nieuwoudt said it was wrong to assume the FIFO influx did not affect local medical services.

“Continuing to mistakenly assert that non-resident workers do not place pressure on health care and other essential services is dangerous and short sighted in the extreme,” they said.

Scholtz and Nieuwoudt are medical superintendent and senior medical officer respectively at Moranbah Hospital and co-own the Moranbah medical practice.

They said one in four patients treated at Moranbah was from outside the community.

In June, the hospital treated 1578 patients from Moranbah, 135 from Clermont, 39 from Dysart and 516 non-residents.

They said the influx was starting to hamper their efforts to treat locals.

“Of late with our GP shortage and the influx of many new patients, our regular patients have to wait longer for appointments and we are no longer able to offer same day service as we have been able to in the past,” they said.

They said the living conditions of FIFO workers made them bring in diseases from other locations and spread them quicker.

“A further impact of the travel associated with non-resident mobile shift workers relates to the quick spread of diseases and viruses from far afield,” they said.

“Communal living at close quarters is another factor to bear in mind – contagious conditions such as conjunctivitis, influenza, gastroenteritis and whooping cough are easily spread through places where many people live closely together.”

The inquiry into the experiences of FIFO communities, employers, employees, and their families has asked for submissions by October 7 before it will hold public hearings.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland general manager Nick Behrens said FIFO workers could offer significant benefits to local economies and help shield them from the downsides of the “boom and bust” cycle.

“[FIFO] labour can be utilised as mechanisms to manage population growth in regions, reducing the impact of the boom and bust, ensuring house price stability, availability of adequate infrastructure and prevent local economies stagnating because of a drop in the number of mining workers living in the town,” he said.

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