This content relates to a former minister

Interview with Jaynie Seal, of Sky Regional, on 10 February 2022, on health care workers in regional and rural areas

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Jaynie Seal, of Sky Regional, on 10 February 2022, on health care workers in regional and rural areas.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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Jaynie Seal:

Dr David Gillespie, Minister for regional health. So great to see you this morning, Doctor.

Dr Gillespie: 

Good morning, Jaynie.

Jaynie Seal:

So, worn out, working long, hours stretched to the limit. What needs be done for health care workers across Australia, in particular regional and rural areas?

Dr Gillespie:

Well, the best thing is the decline of the Omicron wave. That is the best thing. And it's starting to happen already.

But I'm not surprised to hear those stories, although the suicidal ideation I was very worried about. But the whole health system, including the frontline workers in A&E departments, in intensive care, on the respiratory wards, GP clinics, pharmacies, you name it there has been huge pressure on the health system, but I really tip my lid to their work, to their dedication. But it's not surprising.

Also, this survey was taken during the intense lockdown in Victoria. So there was a lot of social isolation outside of work. And then when you go to work, you're faced with day after day, potentially really sick people. So, it's just worn a lot of people down. And I'm so pleased to see numbers are dropping. I think we're over the hump of the big wave. Our vaccination rate is going up, and huge numbers of the Australian community have been exposed to the Omicron wave. So between vaccination-induced immunity and through the boosters and exposure, we will have less people who are eligible to catch the darn thing.

So that's why it's dying out.

Jaynie Seal:

Well, we're certainly waiting to hear more on whether boosters will be part of the fully vaccinated across many States, Doctor. But there are also reports of people waiting for weeks and months to see GPS in regional areas. What's been done here?

Dr Gillespie:

Look, you've highlighted the maldistribution problem; I fully acknowledge that country, Australia has less doctors and less health professionals. Pharmacists, dentists, physios nurses, you name it, there is a maldistribution of the whole health workforce.

But this has developed over many years due to a variety of reasons. But we have got long term training initiatives to train doctors and nurses in rural and regional towns.

We've got 21 universities running University Departments of Rural Health and Rural Clinical Schools where the med students and nurses get trained in the country.

We know if we harvest students from country areas and about a third of them now come from rural backgrounds and they train there, they're much likely to end up staying there.

The hospital system in rural areas depends on GPs. It's quite different from a city hospital that can just operate separate from general practice.

But we've got way more people going into sub-specialties rather than going into the bedrock of the health system and that is the GP with multiple skills working at the top of her or his craft in these country areas.

So, we have announced just before Christmas HECS or HELP debt relief for doctors who choose to go and practice in these country rural and regional and more remote areas. Same for nurse practitioners.

It's been very well received. It is really a major cash incentive to them. But that's on top of long term incentives and attractions that are baked into the system where if you're practicing in these rural areas, your bulk billing incentive has increased, but also Practice Incentive Payments and Workforce Incentive Payments which are separate to Medicare and what the patient pays you if you go into these more remote and rural areas.

Jaynie Seal:

All right. We certainly know it's not a short term fix, but it certainly sounds like a lot of things are being implemented to look at the long term situation. And as you mentioned in the beginning of the interview, the cases of Omicron certainly dropping and the increase in boosters.

So let's hope things improve of dramatically. But Dr. David Gillespie, Minister for regional Health, thank you so much for your time.

Dr Gillespie:

My pleasure. Good to see you again.

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