Speech at the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland Medico-political Forum
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10 June 2012
On behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, and the state associations, particularly the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland, in supporting rural doctors and their families and the assistance they provide to communities across Australia.
Thank you for inviting me here today to speak with you and to hear your views on the challenges facing medical professionals and healthcare delivery in regional and rural Australia.
We know that people in rural areas face shortages of health professionals, difficulties retaining staff, and the added stress of having to travel long distances. Coming from regional Victoria I know these challenges only too well.
The Commonwealth Government has made significant steps to address inequities by putting in place a number of initiatives and incentives to help rural Australians to get the health care they need and deserve.
For example, we are planning to invest more than $2 billion in a variety of targeted rural health and aged care programs, including:
- $475 million in new and upgraded health facilities in regional Australia under our Health and Hospitals Fund regional priority round
- $108 million under the Government’s Living Longer Living Better aged care reform plan for ensuring the sustainability of aged care services in regional, rural and remote areas
- and $77.7 million for the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme to encourage and support dentists to practise in regional, rural and remote communities and to increase workforce and service delivery capacity in these communities.
Workforce planningA key element in our health reform agenda has been the establishment of Australia’s first health workforce planning agency – Health Workforce Australia – to better plan for our future health workforce needs.
The agency is part of the $1.6 billion National Partnership Agreement on Hospital and Health Workforce Reform and is an independent, truly national body that will work across the health and education sectors to deliver the right number of high quality health graduates.
It will also support workforce reform initiatives, fund and plan undergraduate clinical training across all health disciplines and provide support for international recruitment.
The recently released Health Workforce 2025 report provides national planning projections for the health workforce including doctors, nurses and midwives, providing options to ensure a more sustainable health workforce to meet the future needs of the Australian community.
HWA’s Rural and Remote Health Workforce Innovation and Reform Strategy is expected to be finalised this year. The strategy will provide national guidance on future needs, reform and initiatives to improve health care service provision in rural and remote locations.
Investment in training and educationWe are also providing significant resources for training and education. $386.8 million is being provided over three years to facilitate the education and training of medical, nursing and allied health students in rural and remote regions.
For medical practitioners who wish to become GPs we will have doubled the intake of the Australian General Practice Training program from 600 to 1,200 training places a year over the period 2008 to 2014.
Under the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program we are supporting the education and training of medical, nursing and allied health students in rural and remote regions through a network of 17 rural clinical schools, 11 university departments of rural health, six dental schools that offer rural dental placements, and the John Flynn Placement Program which funds rural placements for medical students.
And we provide continuing professional development opportunities for rural and remote health professionals under initiatives like the Rural Health Continuing Education Sub Program and support for the Rural Health Education Foundation.
Encouraging the health workforce to practise in rural areasThe Government is also encouraging health professionals to practise in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia through an additional $134.4 million under the Rural Health Workforce Strategy.
Initiatives under the strategy include relocation grants and retention payments to encourage doctors to move to and practise in regional, rural and remote localities.
In 2010-11 more than 11,000 doctors were eligible for incentives under this initiative.
We have also put in place mechanisms to allow overseas trained doctors and bonded students who are restricted to practise in a regional, rural or remote location or district of workforce shortage to discharge their obligations sooner if they work outside the main cities and towns.
We provide the opportunity for doctors training or practising in inner regional to very remote locations to repay HECS debts faster.
In addition locum support is provided to rural doctors to relieve pressure and provide greater time for professional development.
And we support the telehealth rebates and Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program to provide access to specialist services in rural and remote Australia.
Ladies and gentlemen, the initiatives I have outlined today are starting to deliver pleasing results and have already contributed to an increase of more than four per cent in the number of GPs working in regional, rural and remote Australia in just one year.
But we are aware that further work is necessary if we are to meet the current and future needs of rural Australians, and to ensure that all Australians have access to high quality health care, when they need it, regardless of where they live.
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