The Labor government would be wise to listen to rural doctors on how to address the GP shortage rather than forging ahead with ill informed and ineffective policies, Nationals Senator Fiona Nash said.
Senator Nash, who’s been in regular contact with the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia (RDAA), said the government has again got it wrong when determining Districts of Workforce Shortages.
A District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) is an area in which the population’s need for medical services has not been met. Doctors who receive scholarships to study medicine under the Bonded Medical Places Scheme are required to provide `a return of service’ in Districts of Workforce Shortage.
Yet the map fails to identify many rural towns that suffer doctor shortages while a number of larger regional centres are DWS-classified.
"Worse, the DWS program works against doctors in towns where there are shortages. The long hours they work to meet the community’s needs are not recognised – the government works on Medicare billing statistics instead," Senator Nash said.
"If doctors instead opted to work office hours, it would tell a different story. It would also be detrimental to the community and unthinkable to many doctors.
"It’s understood some changes are planned but the RDAA is concerned they will do little to address the problem, and that there hasn’t been adequate consultation."
Senator Nash said the government has also got it wrong regarding incentive payments aimed at getting doctors to practice in regional areas. For example, the Rural Relocation Incentive Grant (RRIG) is the same for doctors going to small regional towns as they are for large regional centres in the inner regional zones, thereby negating the incentive for doctors to move to the smaller towns.
Senator Nash and the Coalition’s Regional Health spokesperson, Dr Andrew Laming, were instrumental in initiating a senate inquiry into this anomaly and other rural health issues.
"Dr Laming and myself are working with the Rural Doctors’ Association to have these matters urgently addressed. Hopefully the senate inquiry will be a big step in that direction."
The senate inquiry will hold hearings in coming weeks and report in April. Details on the inquiry, and submissions can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/rur_hlth/index.htm