New incentives for rural procedural GPs
Transcript of interview with the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, on Radio 2UE, 10 January 2006.
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Peter Fitzsimons - presenter:
And now, rural doctors seem to always be under immense pressure. And that’s why, it’s very interesting to read in the (indistinct) Herald today that the government has promised to double incentives to bush general practitioners, who carry out procedures conducted by specialists in the city.
Rural doctors who deliver babies and administer anaesthetics will now get a fifteen thousand dollar annual handout from the Federal Government. Now, clearly, that should help to retain some of our rural doctors; but the question is, will it encourage our city doctors to go bush.
Joining us is the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing Tony Abbott.
Good morning, minister.
Tony Abbott - Federal Minister for Health:
Is this your initiative? Did you conceive this?
Well this is a boost to an initiative which has been in place for some years. So, what we’ve done is double the existing intended payments from up to seven and a half thousand dollars a year to up to fifteen thousand dollars a year. Certainly, I’ve been very keen for quite some time to try to do more to ensure that GP obstetricians in particular stay in their country practices, because we won’t have rural maternity centres if we don’t have continued GP obstetricians operating in country areas.
Is the situation so bad? Why is it that plenty of people want to live in Dubbo, and Broken Hill, and Gulargambone, but not doctors, and lawyers, and so forth?
Good question, Peter. The trouble with being a doctor in the country - particularly a doctor in the country with obstetric and anaesthesia skills - is that you can often be on call effectively twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If I’m a GP obstetrician in Gunnedah, for instance, in New South Wales, chances are there might only be one or two others like me; and it can often mean that I never get a holiday; I really never have any time that I can truly call my own. So the pressure on these doctors is immense, and that’s why any little bit that we can do to help - and over the last couple of years, the government has done quite a bit - is an important part of making sure that they can stay in practice.
When you say a little bit to help: fifteen thousand dollars a year, across the board, for people in those positions is not a little bit. What will be the annual cost to the federal government?
This will cost about five thousand dollars a year in the ... over the next four years ... sorry, five million dollars a year, over the next four years.
All right. Now, is that going to be enough to encourage city doctors to head out there?
Peter, I’d like to think that it would. I suppose that, if I’m a doctor sitting down, doing my sums, the possibility of getting some extra money if I have additional competencies might be what tips the scale. But in the end, I think that what creates a country doctor, particularly a country doctor with these additional skills in obstetrics, anaesthesia, and surgery, is a sense of vocation.
I think that, if you want to be a doctor in the country, you’ve got to have a true sense of idealism, a true sense of commitment, and service. And thank God, we’ve always had doctors like that. And I hope that we don’t lose that sense of duty and service from the medical profession of the future.
I could imagine being a doctor, having my nose a little bit out of joint if my field wasn’t obstetrics, or wasn’t anaesthesia: if the bloke next to me, or the woman next to me … the doctor next to me was suddenly getting a fifteen grand extra that I wasn’t getting, simply because I wasn’t in that field.
Again, that’s, I think, a reasonable suspicion, Peter; but I was talking to a very good mate of mine, who’s a GP up in Ballina, just before Christmas, and I said to him, look, do you still do deliveries; do you still do anaesthesia? And he said, look, it just wasn’t worth my while. By the time I paid extra indemnity, by the time I had to go off to the city for a couple of weeks, every year, to maintain my certification, I decided that it just wasn’t worth it. So, I think that the non-procedural GPs are pretty conscious of the additional burdens that their procedural colleagues bear, and I don’t think they’re going to begrudge them this extra money.
And of course, if they do, there’s an easy way of getting hold of it; or at least there is a feasible way of getting hold of it, and that’s to brush up those procedural skills, make them current again. And then, obviously, there’s access to the additional money.
All right. Minister Abbott, thanks very much for joining us. I hope that program works well for you.
And for us.
For us. That’s the point, Peter. It’s not for me, and for the government; it’s for the people of country Australia.
Good on you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Tony Abbott, the Minister for Health and Ageing.
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