The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is welcoming today’s announcement that the role of the National Rural Health Commissioner will be extended.
The Federal Government has announced that legislation will be introduced to continue the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner, including the addition of Deputy Commissioners to enhance the scope of the Office. A new Commissioner will replace the inaugural Commissioner Professor Paul Worley from July 1st this year.
RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP Rural A/Professor Ayman Shenouda said that it was an important step forward for healthcare in rural and remote communities.
“I thank Professor Worley for the tremendous work he has done as Commissioner since 2017. His leadership and strong engagement with the health sector, including work on the National Rural Generalist Pathway, has certainly not gone unnoticed.
“It is vital that the recommendations featured in the National Rural Generalist Pathway advice paper are not only considered by the Government but implemented without delay.
“I’m sure that the new Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners will be willing to roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively with the RACGP, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia. Together, we can help health professionals improve health outcomes in rural and remote Australia.”
A/Professor Ayman Shenouda said that the RACGP’s vision was one of equitable access to high-quality primary care in every rural and remote community.
“As Australia's largest representative body of rural general practitioners the RACGP is always fighting to ensure that the healthcare needs of patients outside of major cities are front and centre.
“We pushed for the creation of this role for good reason – rural and remote communities need an independent advocate to listen to their needs and support practical change that is driven by rural health priorities.
“So it is very positive news for rural and remote communities that the Federal Government has decided to extend this role and broaden the scope of the Office.
“I understand that the new Office will be encouraged to undertake targeted projects to improve rural health access and sustainable models of care and I think that is particularly important.
“The health needs of communities outside of major cities are unique and must be treated as such. I look forward to working with the Office to pursue exciting opportunities such as better utilising technology, including telehealth services, and encouraging more junior GPs to train in rural and remote areas.”
A/Professor Shenouda said that the announcement came at a vital time.
“The Office will feature in the Government’s handling of COVID-19 in rural and remote communities including advice on how the virus is impacting the health workforce and patients.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented particular challenges for healthcare workers on the frontline. When I speak to GPs and other health professionals in rural and remote communities they tell me about the uncertainty and pressure they feel about potentially managing the pandemic in their area.
“In some rural and remote communities there are limited resources and workforce numbers and specialists may be a long drive away. So the new Commissioner will need to be alert to concerns such as the pressures that would be placed on one hospital if there was an influx of COVID-19 patients in a small town.”
The RACGP Vice President said that health workforce challenges remained but stressed the positives of working outside of major cities.
“I am not blind to the fact that the new Commissioner will face challenges such as workforce shortages and health disparities that see a higher burden of disease and injury outside of major cities.
“However, my message to all medical students and junior doctors is that if you are considering a job as a GP in a rural or remote area you certainly will not regret it because it is an incredibly rewarding experience.
“I frequently say to medical students that if you train in a rural area you will find the local medical community, including nearby referral hospitals, extremely welcoming. You will be a member of a tight-knit team and your skill set will accelerate rapidly.
“You will get to know the patients you treat and become involved in the local community. Trust me when I tell you that your presence will not be taken for granted.”
The RACGP has worked in lock step with Professor Worley on a number of initiatives including:
developing the Collingrove Agreement, which defined a Rural Generalist and was the first step in developing the National Rural General Pathway
being an active member of the National Rural Generalist Taskforce which was established by the commissioner
developing a new Fellowship for Rural Generalists to provide more flexible and robust training that meets the changing needs of the general practice workforce in rural and remote communities.