Australia wants more doctors to work in the bush

by Ray Clancy on February 21, 2012

in Australia Immigration, Jobs in Australia

Acute shortage of doctors in remote and rural areas

Australian has a shortage of doctors, and the problem is particularly acute in remoter rural areas, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

The AMA has made an extensive submission to the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee Inquiry into the factors affecting the supply of health services and medical professionals in rural areas.

Experts agree that more needs to be done to recruit doctors from overseas but often they want to live and work in big cities rather than in remote Australia.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that a broad practical plan is needed to attract doctors to rural practice and keep them in local communities for the long term.

Dr Hambleton said that there is a nationwide shortage of doctors, but rural and remote areas shoulder a disproportionate workforce shortage burden.

‘Rural Australia is highly reliant on international medical graduates (IMGs) to address these workforce shortages. The contribution made by IMG doctors has been essential and greatly appreciated by the communities they serve,’ he explained.

But he added that there are not enough foreign recruits.

‘GPs are the backbone of rural health care. We need to expand the opportunities for GPs and GP trainees to access advanced skills training in areas such as surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, and anaesthetics, and we must ensure that incentives are in place to attract doctors with these skills to rural and remote areas,’ he explained.

The AMA is urging the Government to support the Rural Rescue Package developed by the AMA and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, which highlights two key tiers of support.

The first is a rural isolation payment to be paid to all rural doctors, including GPs, specialists and registrars, to reflect the isolation associated with rural practice. Secondly a rural procedural and emergency/on call loading to better support rural doctors who provide obstetric, surgical, anaesthetic or primary emergency on-call services in rural communities.

Dr Hambleton said the task of attracting doctors to the bush is very complex.

‘It is not just about money. It extends to professional development, existing health infrastructure, family needs, education, and lifestyle,’ he said.

‘State governments have contributed to workforce shortages by closing down or downgrading public hospitals in many rural areas. This leads to an environment where rural doctors cannot practise vital skills or procedures, so they are often lost to rural areas as a result,’ he explained.

‘The AMA believes a public interest test should apply before local hospital services are closed or downgraded. Support also needs to be given to the families of doctors. More attention needs to be given to supporting spouses and family members access suitable employment and education opportunities when one member of the family moves to the bush,’ he added.

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