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March 28, 2011

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has called on the Federal Government to support rural doctors and provide a focused regional health Minister in Cabinet.

After meeting with the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) last week, Mr Chester said health reform was needed to engage doctors in the decision-making process.

He said a key plank of any reform should be increased funding to attract and retain health professionals in regional areas.

“The Nationals believe that regional health deserves a higher profile in the overall health policy of government,” Mr Chester said.

“When health policies are being made, we believe there should be a dedicated regional health minister in the cabinet to stand up and fight for country communities.

“We also believe there needs to be an overhaul of the regional incentive programs to attract and retain health professionals in rural and regional communities.

“The current system of using the Australian Standard Geographical Classification Area simply does not work for many of our regional towns. The system has created some quite unusual anomalies where small regional towns like Sale and Yarram in my electorate are placed in the same category as some of the outer suburban areas for the purpose of calculating any financial compensation or incentives for doctors.

“I believe there needs to be a better targeted system of payments which rewards doctors and other health professionals who move to some of the more difficult to service areas and then choose to stay there.”

Mr Chester called for a greater focus on training new doctors from country areas.

“We also need to make sure that we are providing opportunities for students from regional communities to actually achieve the marks to go on to study medicine,” Mr Chester said.

“It has been proven over many, many studies that students who have some origins in a regional community are more likely to come back and practise in those communities in the future.”

Mr Chester highlighted the RDAA budget submission to the Treasurer, which refers to areas where ‘the current policy framework is failing to meet the needs of rural and the needs of rural and remote communities.”

The RDAA states that professional issues need to be addressed, including training, skills and qualifications of doctors and local professional supports to enable doctors and their families to have adequate leave for study and recreation.

“That is a key issue in making sure that the experience for a doctor in a regional and rural location is a positive one—that they are not forced to work ridiculous hours and always be on call but that they actually have a quality of life in our regional communities,” Mr Chester said.

The calls for a health overhaul are also supported by the Australia Medical Association (AMA).

AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce told a GP conference in Canberra last week that “health reform is needed because, among other things, doctors are often locked-out of the decision-making in our major institutions.”

“GPs work very hard and they are dedicated to their patients,” Dr Pesce said.

“But they are seeing older and sicker patients with more complex care needs.  And they are doing this within a consultation structure that discourages longer consultations.”

Dr Pesce said recent surveys had shown that around 90 percent of GPs are satisfied or very satisfied with their work.

“But they vigorously dislike Government red tape and bureaucracy. It stops them from helping more people,” Dr Pesce said.

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