Would you work in the bush if the Federal Government wiped your university debt? A new scheme is promising just that. The Government's hoping it will lure would-be doctors and nurse practitioners to rural Australia. It's the latest initiative to fix severe GP shortages in remote areas, with previous policies failing to solve it. With more, here's political reporter Stephanie Dalzell.
A catchy tune to infect medical minds.
Two years ago, the small community of Temora in southwest New South Wales hatched a quirky idea, creating a music video to help attract doctors to the area. Local GP Rachel Christmas says they're still on the hunt.
The demand on our service is always greater than what we're actually able to provide. So we constantly hear in comments like, oh, but I can't get an appointment to see you; I can't get the doctor that I want to see; the waiting time is too long. So that's part of the problem.
Diagnosing the problem is easier than prescribing a solution. Attracting doctors to regional and remote areas has been an age-old problem. Numerous incentives are being dangled by successive governments at all levels, but the workforce gap has remained.
If I knew the answer then I'd be an extremely wealthy woman. We have to look at that ways we can make that- you know, make it more attractive for people.
To make it more attractive, the Federal Government has come up with a new pitch. From January next year, it'll wipe the university debt of doctors or nurse practitioners - but it comes with a few caveats. If they're in a remote community, they must work at least 24 hours a week for a period equivalent to half the length of their degree, typically two to three years. While in rural and regional areas, they need to stay for the entire length of their degree.
Regional Health Minister David Gillespie says that's on top of current incentives like scholarship programs and additional Medicare benefits.
The more remote you go, the more significant the practice incentive payment, or the workforce incentive payment is. So this is an extra to what we have already, but it is targeted because there is an acute shortage of general practitioners in the outer regional and remote areas, more so than anywhere else.
It's an important change, according John Hall, a GP in the rural Queensland town of St George.
The incentive here is huge. They basically will be getting all of their HEP's back - so that can be up to $100,000 for student studying medicine. So this is a significant incentive for junior doctors and nurses as well to look at an early career in rural areas.
The Government is also making it easier for more rural and regional areas to recruit health practitioners, typically reserved for very remote areas, like doctors who've trained overseas. Peta Rutherford, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, has welcomed the incentives, but notes they're no silver bullet.
It really is about ensuring that the Government's strategies recognise the full scope of practice of rural GPs and rural generalists. And you know, ensuring that they're got a fair remuneration package, but also looking at some of the social elements that go with working in a rural community as a doctor.
But with a promise to shoulder hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, the Federal Government hopes doctors and nurse practitioners seriously consider this pitch.