The Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie has welcomed the release of the Senate Community Affairs committee’s report into the Factors Affecting the Supply of Health Services and Medical Professionals in Rural Areas.
Senator McKenzie participated in the inquiry into the future of Australia’s rural health sector over 10 months, which heard from stakeholders in Alice Springs, Darwin, Townsville, Canberra and Albury-Wodonga and received 132 submissions – a majority from regional Victoria.
“The inquiry heard there needs to be a substantial increase in trainee general practitioner numbers in regional areas, and the funding model needs to be overhauled,” Senator McKenzie said.
“There were nearly 13,000 domestic medical students in 2010, but it’s impossible to say how many go on to work regionally.
“The committee was told health professionals are turned off by relocating to regional areas due to professional development, income and accommodation issues, while an increasing number of medical students prefer to specialise rather than pursue general practice.
“This was disappointing to hear, as many medical students underestimate how important a general practitioner is to a regional area and the diverse role many perform in addressing the health needs of a community.”
The committee also found the federal government’s healthcare ranking system was inconsistent in its ranking of regional towns and cities and recommended it be re-worked.
“Both the Central Victoria General Practice Network and Murray Plains Division of General Practice said crude application of the Remote Areas classification system gave communities ranging in population from 2,000 to 100,000 the same relocation and retention grants,” Senator McKenzie said.
“For example Bendigo, with a population of approximately 105,000 people and Dingee, with approximately 300 people, are eligible for the same amount of funding and incentives.”
Senator McKenzie said the bipartisan report made a range of recommendations for the government to consider.
These include expansion of the rural generalist programs for trainee doctors, and that education providers and the medical profession work to address the shortage of rural placements for interns.
“The committee would also like to see federal government incentives encouraging students to study at regional universities offering undergraduate medical courses,” Senator McKenzie said.
“The Gillard Government must now take up the recommendations in this report and help address the critical challenges and shortages in the rural health sector.”