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20 August, 2021

Insufficient incentives for rural and regional doctors

THE KEY body representing doctors will be making a strong submission to the recently announced Senate inquiry on GP shortages on a range of issues about incentives and programs to attract doctors to outer metro, regional and rural areas.

By David Gardiner

THE KEY body representing doctors will be making a strong submission to the recently announced Senate inquiry on GP shortages on a range of issues about incentives and programs to attract doctors to outer metro, regional and rural areas.

The Australian Medical Association’s Dr Marco Giuseppin, who is chair of the AMA Council of Rural Doctors, said some past incentives have not been replaced and others fall well short.

“The HECS Reimbursement Scheme, which reimbursed medical students for their standard HECS debts if they chose to train and work in rural and remote communities, ended on 30 June 2015 and has not been replaced,” Dr Giuseppin said.

Over many years in the recent past, a range of programs to encourage doctors to work in rural and remote areas of Australia have been tried, Dr Giuseppin said, including the Workforce Incentive Program and the Bonded Medical Program.

“However, changes to the Bonded Medical Program earlier this year caused a great deal of anxiety and concern for doctors in the old schemes it replaced.”


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The AMA is also of the view that federal funding announced to improve remote and rural doctor numbers is too little, too late.

“The federal government allocated $65 million in this year’s budget to pay extra incentives to remote doctors to fix rural doctor shortages, but this is long overdue and falls well short of what is actually needed. It also doesn’t come into effect until next year,” Dr Giuseppin said.

While the Queensland AMA does not keep figures on doctor shortages in areas such as Cairns, Cassowary Coast, Mareeba, Hinchinbrook and Mareeba, he said “anecdotally we know that there are shortages.”

“It’s clear that rural and regional communities struggle to attract doctors and other health professionals. According to federal Department of Health statistics, there are 121.5 GPs per 100,000 population in major cities, but only 67.9 in very remote areas.”

At the Senate inquiry, the AMA will also strongly reiterate one of its key arguments about Medicare rebates, which it says rebates “have not kept pace with the cost of providing care for decades.”

“When Medicare was introduced in 1985, the rebates were set at 85 per cent of what doctors were charging. Now, they cover about half of the cost.

“The Medicare rebate for a standard GP consultation up to 20 minutes is just $39.10. This does not cover the true costs of providing appropriate care in a practice, including rent, electricity bills, equipment, staff, insurance, and HECS repayments.

“Junior doctors are not choosing general practice training at a high rate. Low Medicare rebates mean that Queensland Health salaries well exceed those that a GP clinic can provide to a young doctor and provide more stability and benefits. This has led to more people choosing to remain in public hospitals and train as specialists.”


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