About the DPA classification
We use health workforce classification systems to define how rural or remote an area is. We use these systems as part of programs intended to improve the distribution of doctors across Australia.
For example, to be eligible for Medicare, international medical graduates who want to work in Australia as a general practitioner (GP) must work in practices located in a Distribution Priority Area (DPA) under certain programs.
Review of the DPA Classification System
On 30 March 2022, the Government published the Review of the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) Classification report and the Government response to the review. The DPA was introduced in 2019 to replace the previously used Districts of Workforce Shortage for general practice system.
The Review was undertaken in late 2021 to undertake a wide-ranging and thorough review of the DPA mechanism, including evaluating its effectiveness in identifying areas of Australia experiencing GP service shortages relative to the needs of the community. The report made eight recommendations to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the DPA mechanism to better achieve the goal of equitable access to GP services for all Australians, no matter where they live. A copy of the report and the Government’s response to the review is available online.
Exceptional circumstances reviews
You can request a review if you feel that an area should be classified as a DPA because there are exceptional circumstances since the last DPA update.
If approved, a GP catchment area can access several workforce programs at least until the next scheduled DPA review. This includes programs that support access to a broader pool of doctors to recruit from, such as:
- Section 19AB restricted doctors
- Bonded Medical Program
- Non-vocationally Registered Fellowship Support Program
- More Doctors for Rural Australia
- Visas for GPs.
Who can request a review
Anyone can request an exceptional circumstances review. The practice must be in a Modified Monash Model MM 1 (outer-metro) location.
MM 1 inner-metro locations – such as major Australian cities – are not eligible for DPA status review. MM 2 to 7 areas are automatically DPA.
Check your area’s geographical classification on the Health Workforce Locator map.
If you would like to submit a request for an exceptional circumstances review, contact the Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) in your state or territory.
How we consider review requests
The DWG considers all changes to DPA and any amendments to the existing DPA methodology. The group also assesses applications to review and reassess an area’s DPA status.
Exceptional circumstances framework
The DWG reviews applications taking the following principles into account.
Changes to health services, workforce, or health system
When a recent unexpected large change to the health workforce has resulted in a substantial decrease in health services to the community. It applies when the last DPA update did not recognise this change.
This may include:
- changes in services arrangements
- doctor retirements (without replacement)
- hospital or other practice closures.
Patient demographics or changes
When areas have a patient demographic that:
- is underserviced
- requires a specialised nature of service
- has had an unexpected sharp increase in numbers.
The review process also considers changes in an area’s:
- socio-economic status
- proportion of senior people
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
Absence of services
This applies when areas have:
- demonstrated difficulties in recruiting or retaining doctors
- difficulties that are measurably worse than similar communities.
This may include a reduction in services resulting from departing doctors leaving a practice.
The DWG assesses requests within 3 weeks of submission to us. The Minister for Health decides the outcome of the review.
We will advise the RWAs and applicants of the outcome within 2 weeks of the DWG meeting, following the minister’s decision.
Outcomes of DPA exceptional circumstances reviews
We publish the review outcomes, including a summary of the assessment, to ensure transparency.
We update the Health Workforce Locator map every year to incorporate these changes.
Request a review
Talk to your Rural Workforce Agency for help and advice on requesting a review.