5CS, South Australia, Classic Hits Breakfast
Friday, 7 May 2021
Subjects: GPs in rural and regional South Australia.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about regional doctors, especially in the case of Peterborough, who will be without a GP from June. To talk about, I guess, what’s happening in the space of regional doctors, I’m joined by Federal Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, Mark Coulton. Mark, how’s it going?
Well, thanks, Jordan. Good to speak with you.
So obviously, regional health and regional doctors are a big issue and have been for the last couple of years and encouraging doctors to make that move into the regions has been quite difficult.
It certainly has. And you know, what we’re finding now is quite a large number of doctors come up towards retirement age seems to be a critical time and we have to transition those country practices and the model of practice ownership.
One doctor that’s there for a long time is sort of not what the younger doctors are looking for.
So we are having to look at different ways of providing that support service. So, you know, I was in South Australia a month or two back with Rowan Ramsey and had a week on the Eyre Peninsula, met with a lot of GPs out that way as well, and, you know, it’s quite a quite a common problem, and it’s one we’re aware of, and it’s why we’re putting, you know, changing policy to try and rectify it.
So what kind of policy changes have been looked at so far?
Out in the regional areas, not only placements, but also changing the course, what is called a rural generalist course.
One of the reasons that some GPs, particularly younger ones, are a little reluctant to go and work in a country community where there are a broad range of issues from preventative health medicine to sometimes emergency care, if there’s been an accident of some sort, can be daunting.
So we are training a lot of younger doctors now for rural medicine through the rural generalist pathway.
So they’re trained with a broader range of skills, such as emergency. Sometimes in other disciplines as well. They might have anesthetic skills or obstetrics skills.
And so, they should be doing that placement in country areas for training for longer periods of time.
But also, we fund practices in regional areas with semi-payments for up to $125,000 for the practice incentive payments for doctors.
And there’ll be some announcements in the Budget on Tuesday where we’re actually rewarding, with MBS payments, doctors who are working in the more remote areas.
And of course, many towns do try and sweeten the deal by adding in a car or a house, but it does take a fair bit more than just money to attract people out to the region.
It certainly does. Working in a team environment is attractive and quite often going to be the only GP in town is a daunting prospect, particularly for younger or less experienced GPs.
We have actually created a problem in an attempt to fix this in the short term by paying locums much, much more than we are paying doctors who are committed to being there permanently.
So it’s become an attractive career option to actually go to different places as a locum, filling in rather than staying during the difficult times.
So we need to put those resources into creating an environment that is more conducive to working for longer.
And you are right, it’s not just the finances. People need to feel supported.
They need to have a team around them, and they need to have the adequate training to make sure that they feel comfortable to service those vast array of issues they’ll find working in country practice.
And how many do we know, how many students actually med students come from regional locations?
Of the 1,400 students that are going into general practice training (on the Australian General Practice Training program), 700 of those are doing rural placements.
That’s not a bad result – half of the junior doctors are going into regional areas.
There’s universities that have regional-based campuses and we’re starting to see more and more country people taking up medicine.
What we know, is because it takes such a long time, you really need to keep those people working in the region, because quite often, when they train and work in the city, they find their life partner about the time that they become fully qualified.
They might want to have kids. And 65 per cent of medical graduates now are female. So we’ve got to take into account the demographics.
Our doctors are different and we’ve got to create work environments that are more conducive to family life and the like.
There’s a lot of moving parts that we’ve got to work on, and the Federal Government can’t compel doctors to go somewhere.
All we can do is try and prepare them and then provide incentives, and obviously, the state government then has the issue around managing their health system and their hospitals.
And from conversations I had with Minister Wade, I’d like to say that we could maybe do some more cooperation in this state.
No worries. Minister, thank you so much for your time today.
Anytime. Thanks, Jordan.