Media event date: 
7 April 2020
Date published: 
6 April 2020
Media type: 
Statement
Audience: 
General public

The Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, the Hon Mark Coulton MP, chaired a second special roundtable teleconference with members of the Rural Health Stakeholder group.

Minister Coulton brought together key rural stakeholders to continue discussions regarding the Australian Government response to COVID-19 and priorities for rural and remote communities.

Minister Coulton talked about the importance of community cohesion during this period, which can be assisted through the provision of up to date and accurate information regarding the work that is underway to manage the response. 

Senior Department of Health staff provided updates on the Commonwealth response. Participants provided valuable feedback on the current focus and efforts of their own organisations in response to the outbreak.

Update on rural concerns

Progress was reported in relation to the distribution of additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to rural and remote communities, noting that there is still a global shortage. Resources are available on COVID-19 for health professionals, including aged care providers, pathology providers and healthcare managers.

The roll out of GP respiratory clinics across the country was also discussed, to allow safe assessment of people’s symptoms. 

Work underway to deliver these clinics in regional/rural locations was discussed with likely first rural clinic to open next week in Emerald, Qld.

Issues around the supply chain for rural community pharmacies was raised, including the need to reassure the community that medicines are available in Australia, and there is not a need to stockpile them. 

The need to continue Pre-Employment Structured Clinical Interviews (PESCI) to assess whether an International Medical Graduate (IMG) is suitable to practise in a specific position was highlighted as a priority. It was noted that these assessments are continuing via video- conference by the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.

The impact of travel restrictions for non-resident doctors trying to return to their jobs in Australia was also discussed. Home Affairs has introduced an online form that allows people to apply for an exemption. Additional information can be found on the Home Affairs website.

The expansion of telehealth items to enable GPs to consult with patients over phone or video technology was also supported by the group.  The latest information on this can be found at mbsonline.

Update on workforce matters

One of the main priorities of the Australian Government is ensuring workforce distribution measures are not impacted so that we maintain the workforce in communities in need, particularly in rural and remote areas. 

It was noted that locum tenens time limits have been extended for up to 12 weeks. This means unrestricted doctors and eligible health professionals will be able to provide services at a new practice for a period of twelve weeks without making an application for a new Medicare provider number, reducing the administrative burden and allowing health professionals to focus on providing care to patients.

In order to support the nursing workforce to respond to COVID-19, the Australian Government has provided funding of up to $1 million* to the Australian College of Nursing to provide a free online training course, known as the REFRESHER program, to eligible Registered Nurses.  Participants welcomed this announcement, and queried whether a similar course could be developed for the allied health professions. Further information can be found at the ACN website.

The issue of international medical graduates obtaining registration in Australia was also discussed, including the need to ensure that applications are processed quickly to ensure they can assist with the increased workforce demand. 

It was reiterated that the most up-to-date information on the Australian Government response to the coronavirus can be found at www.health.gov.au

More than 16 rural stakeholder organisations participated in the meeting, along with the National Rural Health Commissioner and the Commonwealth Department of Health. 

*This has subsequently increased to $2.5 million, which will allow 3000 Registered Nurses to access the training.

Participant list

Members participating in the teleconference for the 27 March 2020 were:

  • Allied Health Professions Australia
  • Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine
  • Australian Dental Association
  • Australian Medical Association
  • Australian Rural Health Education Network
  • CRANAplus
  • Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators
  • Indigenous Allied Health Australia
  • National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
  • National Rural Health Commissioner
  • National Rural Health Alliance
  • Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
  • Rural Doctors Association of Australia
  • Rural Health Workforce Australia
  • Rural Workforce Agencies Network
  • Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health
  • Pharmaceutical Society of Australia
  • Pharmacy Guild of Australia