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18 March 2024

Tasmanians’ access to GPs needs a bigger boost: RACGP

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has called on parties to support rural Tasmanian communities’ access to a local general practitioner and boost GP numbers this election by making the state more attractive to train in for skilled overseas doctors.   

In its Tasmanian budget submission, the College has called on the state to fund Fellowship Support Program training for 20 international medical graduates (IMGs) at a cost of $880,000 per year. The Fellowship Support Program is the self-funded, 24-month education and training program designed to support IMGs to qualify as a specialist GP.

RACGP Tasmania Chair Dr Toby Gardner said Tasmania is an excellent place to work in and train as a GP, but needs an edge to compete with bigger states.

“Moving to a new place to work is a big commitment – it means making new connections, major expenses, and potentially uprooting your family for a new opportunity,” he said.

“That’s doubly so if you want to train as a general practitioner and you’re moving from overseas. Like everywhere in Australia, we need to complement our domestically educated workforce with doctors who received quality training overseas and have shown they are competent to practice in Australia and trained as specialist GPs.

“Previously, these doctors’ Fellowship Support Program training to become GPs in Australia was subsidised by the Federal Government, but that ceased last year. That means for a relatively small investment, Tasmania can become a destination of choice for skilled future GPs. Victoria is already providing an incentive of up to $40,000 for doctors to train as GPs, and unsurprisingly, they saw a big increase in the number of GPs training there after that grant was announced.

“Shortages are already hitting regional and remote areas of Tasmania where communities are struggling to attract and retain GPs. Tasmania is a fantastic place to live and work, having moved here from Queensland myself, but our practices are in a tight competition for these future GPs with other, bigger states. This is a smart way to give ourselves the edge we need.

“With many of my GP colleagues in Tasmania thinking about retirement and succession planning, it’s an easy way boost GP numbers in communities in need and avoid the situation we’ve seen far too many timesessential practices being forced to close because they can’t meet their workforce needs. The evidence shows that doctors who train in rural regions are more likely to choose to live in those areas long-term.”

Dr Gardner said the major parties must do more to secure patients’ access to a local GP.

“The parties’ election commitments are welcome, but they’re missing an opportunity to help secure the future of our state’s GP workforce. The Tasmanian Liberals have committed to pay up to $100,000 of the HECS debt of GPs in regional and rural areas. It’s a good initiative, but it just does not apply to many of the future GPs who could train and work in our rural and regional areas after receiving their medical degree from overseas. It’s missing a trick.

“Tasmanian Labor’s strong commitment against payroll tax, which will cause higher fees and practice closures if the state revenue office starts collecting a new tax on independent GPs, gives practices certainty about their future, but they can do more to ensure Tasmanians can access a GP where they live.

“We’re calling on all parties to make a modest funding commitment with a big impact. In a state health budget, $880,000 is a rounding error, but just one new GP in a rural area means a real difference in the health and future of a community.”

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