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Doorstop, Rockhampton Press Conference, 21 January 2022, on Distribution Priority Area announcement

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie at the Doorstop, Rockhampton Press Conference, 21 January 2022, on Distribution Priority Area announcement.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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Alright. Ken O'Dowd, Member for Flynn. Thanks, Dr David Gillespie for coming out.

We've had a pretty hectic couple of days. Yesterday, the doctor announced a $10 million training program based at Emerald in conjunction with the JCU, James Cook University. That went over very well in the Central Highlands.

We realise that there's a shortage of doctors and allied health workers right across the regions, right across Australia actually. But it's prevalent in Michelle's area, in my area, in Central Queensland. So by doing that, putting that $10 million up, and working with JCU, we are able to train doctors and allied health staff in the local area with the hope that we'll retain a lot of those trainees as they develop their careers. So that's what that was all about.

Today, we got another announcement, and this is especially exciting news for Gracemere and Mount Morgan. They do not have to, after today's announcement, with the DPA system that restricted them from recruiting overseas doctors, overseas trained doctors, and bonded medical practitioners. So that's going to be a weight off their shoulders, and it will help them to expand their recruiting of doctors and allied staff in that Mount Morgan area. So, I'm very happy about that. We've been fighting for a long time and thank David for making that happen.

Thanks, David.

QUESTION: Why were they restricted from getting international recruitments?


Yeah. Thanks, Kenny. Well, as I said, you've got two terriers, bulldogs maybe, who fight for the good of their constituents, and Kenny's been blowing in my ear since I came into the role. We set up an exceptional circumstances review of this DPA system. DPA stands for Distribution Priority Area.

There are some areas that don't have good access to doctors because there's way too many people and not enough doctors. Or you'd have to go to a hospital to get your general practice care because you can't get on the books. We realised that was a problem. The DPA system is meant to pick out the places that need it most, but they were throwing up some weird results. No matter what system you set up, you need nuances and a human look at it, not just a number. So when I got into the Ministry, we set up an exceptional circumstances review and commissioned a formal review of the DPA system, and we've had many general practice catchments applied to be reviewed.

We reviewed what was going on in Gracemere and Mount Morgan district, and the analysis showed all those things. You know, there's delayed access. It's hard to get into a clinic. You've got to go to the hospital for what should be a GP visit. So, we've declared it a Distribution Priority Area so they can search in a bigger pool of doctors, namely the overseas trained doctors who are required to work in underserviced areas between five and 10 years before they can go anywhere else in Australia, and also bonded medical students who become doctors in Australia, who got the Commonwealth support to go to uni with the deal that they do three years' service back in an area that is DPA. So, it means there's more people clinics can try and get to work in Gracemere and Mount Morgan.

QUESTION: Ideally, how many positions would this open up?


Look, it depends. Every area always wants more doctors. We have got way too many specialists, except for dermatologists and a few others.

But most of them are hanging out in big cities. But we want more GPs and more general upgraded general practitioners who can still work in country hospitals and do anaesthetics and deliver babies and do minor surgery like skin cancer. We want better distributed specialist workforce. But this way is targeting the most difficult areas that are hard to service, and certainly it was also irrational; Rocky was DPA positive, but Gracemere and Mount Morgan wasn't. So, it was like an anomaly in the analysis. So that's what we've corrected.

QUESTION: Given that borders are only just starting to open, how are we going to attract doctors here from overseas?


Once they come here and say what Rocky's like, you know, it's a big city. It's got a lot of [indistinct]. There's a willing patient population. They're really keen to have the access that other places in Australia do. It is a lifestyle change. There's many people in the city who now realise that being in the city is not necessarily the bee's knees. They do get a better quality of life if you live out of metro. But all those regions that Dr John was explaining, all the baggage of life, and your partner's job and income might be settled by the time you finally get your ticket, and you can go wherever you like. So we're trying to train more locally, so that they set their life up while they're training in regional centres. We're trying to flip the paradigm so that you don't spend your whole time in Melbourne or Sydney, or Brisbane, Adelaide, in the big places doing your specialty training and your GP training.


But in Flynn, the last survey I did, we were short of - and that's not counting Capricornia, Michelle's area - we were short of 40 doctors.



40, yeah. Plus allied health staff, you could multiply that by at least three, you know. So, it's been a real issue, and David, fortunately, has listened to Michelle and myself, and this will go a long way to correcting it.

We've been very fortunate in regional centres - Emerald, Theodore, Biloela, Mount Morgan - where we've had a stable nucleus of doctors who've spent their lives in those towns I've just mentioned. But there comes a time, like myself, who- we want to retire. And some doctors are at one end of their 80s, and they'd like to retire, but they can't because of the- they've looked after the community for so long, they feel as though they're letting their communities down by retiring.

And that's not fair to them, who have done a fantastic job over many, many years. So, let's hope we can get the doctors in, get the allied staff, get the people trained locally here, and that will help alleviate the problem.


Yeah, exactly. As I said, Michelle has been on my case too, reminding me that we need more doctors. It's really important that if you train locally and you're much more likely to stay locally, that's why the $10 million announcement for a university department, James Cook Uni, a university department of rural health where they train nurses, pharmacists, allied health like physio and occupational therapists, in Emerald, rather than doing it up at Cairns or Townsville. And sourcing people from that immediate area also makes it much more likely that they'll eventually run their practice in those areas. We know that, it works. So, we're trying to get into as many places as possible, and a $10 million spend over four years in Emerald will be a real magnet for a lot of local, central Queenslanders to think about doing their professional training locally.


We had recently a virtual tour with Dr Gillespie right around the electorate, and we spoke to a lot of medical practitioners about the issues, particularly places like Clermont, where they're really struggling. And it was really important for us to give that feedback to David, and, you know, then he can actually make some decisions.

So, particularly with COVID we can see that the health system is under a lot of strain.

So, you know, decisions like this are good for all of us, and it's something that does concern me, because you get people that are in places like Clermont - one of the doctors has just left there recently – and people have to travel for hours to get medical services.

So, whatever we can do to encourage to have doctors and medical staff out in our rural remote areas, the better it is. And as David said also, about the Heart of Australia Bus, that is just such a fantastic service. You know, they go from town to town, they take the doctors, the specialists out there. They do procedures where people can't afford the time to come into either Rocky or go to Brisbane. They actually can do the procedures out there in those rural communities, so that is a real life-saving service. And end of last year, there was another bus going into other regional areas. So I think innovative ideas like that, of taking that bus with those specialists to those areas is a great idea if we can't get the specialists into those towns. Thank you.

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