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Doctors abandon Bourke as crime rate rises

Dr Siddique’s car after being sideswiped in a hit and run on the Mitchell Highway. Inset: Dr Shahab Siddique with his six-month-old baby boy, Elias, who was in the car at the time. Photos: contributed/TWH

The spiralling crime rate in Bourke has left the town without one of its permanent doctors and two junior doctors have been withdrawn for safety reasons.

The exodus of the doctors from Ochre Health follows the recall of junior nurses stationed at Bourke Hospital due to concerns about their safety.

Dr Shahab Siddique and his family left Bourke last Friday following a harrowing incident on the Mitchell Highway between Bourke and Byrock.

Western NSW Regional Manager for Ochre Health, Damian Pennyfield said the loss of health professionals from Bourke was a direct result of the crime rate.

“The leading cause of medical staff attrition is the local crime in Bourke, and I am not sure if they are being targeted or these incidents are coincidental,” Mr Pennyfield said.

“Dr Siddique was involved in a hit and run with a Bourke local about 40km from Bourke when a driver allegedly swerved into his car and totalled it.

“The driver of the other vehicle allegedly turned his headlights off and when he was about 30 metres from Dr Siddique’s car, he allegedly turned his high beam on, blinding him before allegedly driving into his vehicle at high speed, all of which was captured on the dashcam.

“Doctor Siddique had his six-month-old baby, his three-year-old child, and his wife in the vehicle at the time.

“The incident left Dr Siddique and his family feeling unsafe in Bourke, and he has made the decision to protect his family and leave.

The offending driver has been arrested and charged in relation to the hit and run incident, but Mr Pennyfield said it was not the only time Dr Siddique was targeted.

Months earlier his house was broken into, and his dog was stolen, later recovered by police, and he also reported his wife being abused and harassed.

Mr Pennyfield said that, in the interests of the safety, Ochre Health has also transferred its junior doctors from Bourke to Parkes until the crime rate is addressed.

Just days after the hit and run incident, the junior doctors were targeted when their car was broken into, and the car windows smashed. That incident followed others, including a break and enter at the nurses’ quarters and the theft and damage of hospital vehicles.

A doctor visiting Bourke recently as a prospective placement had his car stolen while he was in town, which was later found burnt out. That doctor has left, and The Western Herald understands he will not be back.

Mr Pennyfield said there was no doubt the crime rate was directly affecting current and future health services in Bourke, and that crime was a clear and direct threat to the future and current health capability in the town.

“We need to address crime from a community perspective,” he said. “Bourke police are doing a very effective job in the clearance rate and in managing these incidents, but fundamentally we need to address the crime rate pro-actively to make Bourke an attractive place for health practitioners, including specialists in allied health.

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