About the strategy
The Stronger Rural Health Strategy (SRHS) aims to build a sustainable, high-quality health workforce that is distributed across the country according to community need. It focuses on rural and remote communities and other areas that have difficulty attracting doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals.
The SRHS includes a range of incentives, targeted funding and bonding arrangements that give doctors more opportunities to train and practice in rural Australia. It also strengthens the role of nurses and allied health professionals to deliver more multidisciplinary, team-based models of primary health care.
The SRHS consists of many initiatives organised under 3 themes:
- recruit and retain.
The Murray–Darling Medical Schools Network
Five rural medical school programs were established in the Murray–Darling region to form the Murray–Darling Medical Schools Network. This means medical students can stay in their communities while they study.
Expansion of the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program delivers more rural placements for health students.
Training support for junior doctors
The Junior Doctor Training Program funds:
- educational support for junior doctors working and training in rural primary care settings
- salary support for junior doctors working in private hospitals.
The National Rural Health Commissioner has worked with the rural health sector and the GP colleges to develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway. The pathway recognises the extra requirements and skills of rural generalists and supports them to meet the diverse health needs of regional, rural and remote Australians.
Improved access to Australian-trained GPs
This initiative introduced a new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee structure on 1 July 2018. The new structure identified non–vocationally recognised (non-VR) doctors as a distinct group when claiming MBS GP items. Non-VR doctors can bill at 80% of what VR doctors can bill. It also increased the base rate for standard consultations for non-VR doctors by 20% in regional, rural and remote areas.
These changes reward investment in postgraduate specialist qualifications and encourage more doctors to work in regional, rural and remote areas.
The Non-vocationally Registered Fellowship Support Program (Non-VR FSP) supports non-VR doctors while they gain fellowship of a GP college to become vocationally recognised. This program will end on 30 June 2023.
More Doctors for Rural Australia
The More Doctors for Rural Australia Program helps doctors who are temporary or permanent residents of Australia and not vocationally recognised to gain fellowship of an Australian GP college.
Streamlining general practice training
This initiative streamlines general practice training pathways and helps doctors to gain fellowship of one of Australia’s 2 GP colleges. It distributes training places to ensure a continued supply of skilled doctors in rural and remote areas.
Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional organisations
We provide support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional organisations (ATSIHPOs). These organisations play a key role in increasing:
- the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the health workforce
- the cultural competency of the broader health workforce.
Recruit and retain
HeaDS UPP health workforce planning tool
The Health Demand and Supply Utilisation Patterns Planning tool (HeaDS UPP) brings health data together to visually highlight how the community uses health services. This data determines areas of need and informs our workforce planning and analysis.
Bonded Medical Program
Our Bonded Medical Program replaces 2 schemes, which are now closed to new applicants – the Bonded Medical Places Scheme and the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship Scheme.
The new program provides more support and flexibility for participants to fulfil their return of service obligation. Program participants have access to more choice, more locations, better support and streamlined conditions.
Workforce Incentive Program
The Workforce Incentive Program has 2 streams. The Doctor Stream provides incentives for doctors to work in rural locations. The Practice Stream supports general practices to employ nurses, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals, and allied health professionals, including non-dispensing pharmacists.
Strengthening the role of the nursing workforce
The Strengthening the Role of the Nursing Workforce initiative includes several components:
- strengthening the role of nurses in delivering primary health care and in meeting the future health care needs of the Australian community
- raising awareness of the role of nurse practitioners
- reviewing undergraduate preparation for nurses in Australia to explore improvements to the system and factors affecting nurses entering the workforce.
The Educating the Nurse of the Future initiative undertook an independent review of nursing education. It aimed to ensure that their training equips nurses to meet the needs of Australia's future health system.
Royal Flying Doctor Service support
The SRHS provides extra funding to the Royal Flying Doctor Service to deliver mental health services, along with dental and emergency aeromedical services, to rural and remote communities.
Improved targeting of bulk billing incentives
We changed rural bulk billing incentives for doctors working in rural areas. Metropolitan areas no longer have access to incentives intended for rural and remote areas. We pay higher benefits to regional, rural and remote doctors to bulk bill children and people with a concession card.
Visas for GPs
The Visas for GPs program manages the growth of the medical workforce by:
- regulating the number of international medical graduates entering Australia
- directing them to work in primary health care areas of need in rural and remote locations.