03 May 2022

RACGP backs rural health announcement but says more support needed

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed a suite of measures to boost rural and regional healthcare but warned that more support is needed to ensure the long-term viability of general practice care outside of our major cities.

The initiatives announced this morning, which form part of the federal Government’s 10-year Stronger Rural Health Strategy, includes $146 million to inject more doctors and allied health professionals into regional and rural communities. $15 million will be invested to expand the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program, $9 million will be dedicated to additional training posts outside of community general practice for rural generalists and GP registrars, and $87 million will go towards targeted support for rural generalists via additional education and skills.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the announcement but called for more long-term investment in rural, regional, and remote general practice.

“As the college that represents four-out-of-five rural GPs, the most of any organisation in Australia, the RACGP welcomes any new investment in rural and regional healthcare,” she said.

“It is positive news that the Government has heeded the RACGP’s calls and boosted investment in rural and regional general practice, including new funding for junior doctors taking on additional skills and an expansion of the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program. This will help boost exposure to rural general practice, which is a crucial step in encouraging more doctors to take on a career outside of a major city.

“It is important to keep in mind though that the measures announced today will not solve all the challenges facing rural and regional general practice. We have a long way to go, particularly since general practice has been neglected and underfunded for many years.

“I encourage whoever forms government after 21 May to act on the recommendations arising from the recent report into the provision of GP and related primary health services in outer metro, rural and regional Australia. The committee urged the federal Government to investigate substantially increasing the Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations. It’s also vital that government listens to the college and puts funding behind the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan.

“By boosting investment in general practice we can help more patients in need and ease the burden on the nation’s health system, which is already operating under immense pressure. Medicare rebates have not kept pace with inflation, let alone the cost of providing high-quality care, and as a result the future viability of general practice is in jeopardy – particularly in rural, regional, and remote areas. That must change because no patient anywhere should be left behind.”

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said that rural healthcare should be front and centre in this election campaign.

“Everyone deserves access to high-quality general practice care, no matter their postcode,” he said.

“I welcome the new announcements because these measures will make a difference for rural and regional communities across Australia. Investing $87 million to provide targeted support to rural generalists to help them gain additional skills to work in regional and rural Australia as well as supporting the engagement of nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals as part of a local multidisciplinary care team, is a positive step forward. 

“The RACGP has long called for increased workforce incentive programs featuring additional payments for those doctors who use advanced skills in the rural and regional areas. We also believe that GPs working outside of major cities should have access to Medicare Benefits Schedule items when they hold advanced skills in areas such as mental healthcare, paediatrics, and palliative care. That is something that we will continue fighting for, because GPs working rural, regional, and remote areas often take on responsibilities that would be handled by other specialists in our cities.

“The announcements today zero in on the ‘push’ factors designed to lure more future doctors into rural and regional general practice through universities and training. That is welcome; however, we also need to attract and retain GPs through appropriate investment in general practice for GPs later in their career.

“There are no quick fixes, we must strengthen rural and regional healthcare through long-term, sustained investment. It’s high time to care about rural health. That includes real reforms, real investment, and real changes to improve access to care and patient health outcomes in rural and regional communities. The RACGP looks forward to working closely with whoever forms government to secure the future of general practice in the bush.”

Representing four-out-of-five rural GPs, the RACGP recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Rural Faculty. The faculty’s 30th anniversary demonstrates the RACGP’s long-term commitment to prioritising rural and remote healthcare and advocating for rural GPs and their communities. More information on the college’s Rural Faculty’s 30th anniversary is available online here.

The RACGP’s Federal Election Statement, which includes calls to action that will boost rural, regional and remote healthcare in Australia, is available here.

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