A re-elected Turnbull-Joyce Government will develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway to address rural health’s biggest issue – lack of medical professionals in rural, regional and remote areas.

Australia’s first ever Rural Health Commissioner will be appointed to lead the development of the pathway as well as act as a champion for rural health causes.

The moves have been warmly welcomed by rural health organisations.

Minister for Rural Health and Deputy Leader of the National Party Fiona Nash said these two measures will put rural health at the heart of Government decision making and improve access to critical health services in the bush.

“Due to the limited availability of specialist doctors in rural and remote areas, rural GPs, often known as Rural Generalists, require a significantly more diverse skills set, with the expectation of substantial after hours service,” Minister Nash said.

“Rural Generalists frequently have advanced training in areas such as general surgery, obstetrics, anaesthetics and mental health. Despite these additional skills, there is no nationally recognised scheme in place to recognise their extra skills and extended working hours.

“We need to get the right medical professionals with the right skills in the right places.

“As a rural person who lives hours from a major city myself, I understand rural Australia needs more medical professionals and this Pathway will help deliver them. Queensland has a good model but we need a national approach.”

Minister Nash said the Rural Health Commissioner will work with the health sector and training providers to define what it is to be a Rural Generalist. Importantly the Commissioner will also develop options to ensure appropriate incentives and remuneration for Rural Generalists, recognising their extra skills and hours and giving them more incentive to practice in the bush.

“Extra recognition and financial incentives for Rural Generalists will help attract more medical professionals to the bush and help keep the ones we already have,” Minister Nash said.

“This was made clear in the Hambleton Review into the GP Rural Incentives Programme. The review said: ‘The Panel strongly recommends that some funds…recognise this more complex work’.

“Rural, regional and remote Australians deserve better access to medical professionals and this policy will help deliver that.

“Rural Australians don’t expect a brain surgeon or a cardiologist on every corner, but they rightly expect access to quality health services, comparable to their city counterparts.

“We have a flood of medical professionals in the cities yet we have a drought of medical professionals in the country areas. This policy is a big step forward to addressing that.”

The policy builds on Minister Nash’s redirection of $50 million to increase incentives paid to rural doctors instead of to city doctors; the creation of the Rural Multidisciplinary Training Pipeline – which ensures more doctors, nurses and allied health workers are being trained in rural and remote locations, and the institution of the Modified Monash Model which is a fairer classification system to ensure Government incentives are targeted to the regions which need them most.

The President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr Ewen McPhee has welcomed the initiative from Minister Nash, saying it has the capacity to make a huge difference to the health of rural Australians.

“This would be a significant step towards achieving greater equality of healthcare for rural and remote Australians and shows a real commitment from the Coalition to improving their health outcomes.”

Professor Lucie Walters, President of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), said that the College strongly welcomes the announced intention to appoint a Rural health Commissioner whose first priority will be to develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway.

“This is important recognition not only of the importance of improving health outcomes in rural and remote communities, but also of the value of the Rural Generalist model of practice in achieving this goal, Minister Nash said.

As a first order of business, the National Rural Health Commissioner will be tasked with developing and defining the new National Rural Generalist Pathway and providing a report to Government which lays out a pathway to reform.

The Commissioner will work with rural, regional and remote communities, the health sector, universities, specialist training colleges and across all levels of Government to improve rural health policies and champion the cause of rural practice.

The Commissioner will also lead the development of the first ever National Rural Generalist Pathway, which will significantly improve access to highly skilled doctors in rural, regional and remote Australia.

“The National Rural Health Commissioner will be a champion of rural health, working with Government and the health sector to enhance policy and promote the incredible and rewarding opportunities of a career in rural medicine,” Minister Nash said.