Address to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia lunch at Parliament House
Funding for the National Rural Generalist Pathway, creating more opportunities for doctors to train in rural areas.
The Hon Mark Coulton MP
Assistant Trade and Investment Minister, Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government
I’d like to acknowledge you, Dr John Hall (President, RDAA), as our host today, thank you.
I’d like to also acknowledge Marita Cowie, OAM, who was recently recognised for her services to rural health and congratulation in that space.
Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I understand many of you have left country practices to be here today and you’ve done that because you’re going above and beyond what is required of a country doctor and GP to make sure that we are improving the services to the people of regional Australia.
I’m the Minister responsible for the delivery of health services to seven million Australians who live in rural and remote areas and they require and they expect the same level of service, the same level of care as their friends who live in the cities.
There’s been mention today, and I acknowledge the Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Greg Hunt. They have all mentioned the Generalist Pathway, the $62 million program that will change the way we train doctors, give them those broader range of skills, the confidence and the courage and the ability to handle the extra responsibilities and variations that come from working in a regional practice.
I’m looking forward to that coming underway. And that $62 million will fund coordination units to improve training and coordination for aspiring rural generalists.
It will also fund the expansion of primary training care training placements for junior doctors to increase early exposure to rural practice and will fund an application by the two major GP training colleges, ACRRM and RACGP, to the Medical Board of Australia seeking national recognition for rural generalists as a specialised field within general practice.
And this builds on the $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy which is a comprehensive package to reform and deliver health and address workforce shortages and improve access to doctors, nurses and allied healthcare services in the bush.
But I do have an announcement today. It has been mentioned before, many of you will recall the 2018-19 budget when the Australian Government announced an additional 100 training places per annum as an early commitment to the rural generalist, a pre-commitment if you like.
I’m pleased to announce today that those 100 places will be allocated to the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) for the 2021 training year, and I acknowledge Dr (Ewen) McPhee as the President of that organisation here today.
Combined with the current 150 AGPT training places, this brings ACRRM’s Commonwealth funded places in 2021 to 250. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners will continue to have an intake of 1350 training places next year, which of course includes substantial rural training places and existing positions taken up by Rural Generalist trainees.
I also recognise Dr (Ayman) Shenouda from the Royal Australia College of General Practitioners, who is here today.
So the Department of Health will continue to work with the colleges on ongoing implementation of these places as part of a transition to GP training from 2022 and the implementation of the National Generalist Pathway.
Dr McPhee, congratulations on your organisation to be in the position to accept these training places.
Minister Hunt mentioned the Murrumbidgee Model but we are looking at other innovative employment models, and I call that unravelling a bowl of spaghetti that is health delivery in Australia.
A greater combination between State and Federal governments and there’s some models that I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to announce soon where a combination of local health districts, the PHNs representing the Commonwealth Government, can have models where it’s actually an advantage, it’s actually seen as a benefit to your career to go and work in regional Australia.
For too long, regional Australia has been seen as the second prize for junior doctors and trainees coming through. We’ve got to reverse that around.
I wish I had of taped the speech that my local doctors made on celebrating 30 years of caring for the people of my home town of Warialda, a town of about 1200 people.
A married couple, Dr Clem Gordon and his wife, Dr Diana Coote, they spoke of the honour, the privilege, but also the challenges of servicing the community like that.
The highs, the lows, the bringing people in to life, palliative care as people pass away. But also dealing with tragedies, such as a carload of teenagers hitting a tree on Friday night.
All of those things, it’s enormous responsibility but it also is very rewarding and it’s not the story that we’re telling it enough.
This Generalist Pathway will give our junior doctors the skills of our retiring doctors that we’re losing now as they go into retirement and I think it’s beholden to us all as individuals, as colleges, as the Department, as associations to work together to bring this through.
Now, the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned the medical school that we’re delivering for the Murray-Darling are.
In the long term, I believe that is a great result. In the short term, we’re going to look at these innovative models to fill in the gaps and turn around the narrative about training in the bush.
You know, we all come from regional Australia. We love it, we live it and we’ve got to get that message out: regional Australia is not second prize, it’s a prize to be valued and it’s going to enhance your career and quality of life as a junior doctor.
So thank you very much Adam (Coltzou, of RDAA) for allowing me to speak today.