April 30, 2009
There are fears Gippslanders will face increased costs to visit their local GP under the Federal Government’s plan to reduce incentive payments to rural and regional doctors.
The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said the proposed changes came on top of an alarming report released this week that 10% of doctors plan to walk away from medicine within five years.
“At a time when we are making every effort in country communities to attract and retain skilled health professionals it is staggering that the Federal Government would even consider reducing the level of incentive payments made to doctors practicing outside the city,” Mr Chester said.
Mr Chester has met with many doctors from across Gippsland concerned about the Rudd Government’s plan to change the zoning system for rural incentive payments.
The incentives make it possible for some clinics to bulk bill and help to fund practice nurses who can attend to many routine procedures. “At a time when one in 10 doctors is planning to leave the sector because they are fed up with long hours, the Government is planning to cut its level of support and make it even more difficult to recruit doctors to country areas,” Mr Chester said.
“It beggars belief that the Government would exacerbate the doctor shortage and make people wait even longer to see a GP, or force people to pay more for a basic health service,” Mr Chester.
Mr Chester said the doctors he had spoken to believe it would be more difficult to attract and retain doctors in regional areas if the zoning changes proceed. Research by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found that 2500 GPs and 2500 specialists across Australia plan to quit their profession by 2013.
Research showed the exodus was fuelled by plans to retire and many of the doctors interviews cited long working hours. AMA Victoria President Dr Doug Travis has publicly stated that the expected loss would leave Victoria experiencing the worst doctor shortage the state has ever seen. Mr Chester has made several representations to the Federal Health Minister calling for existing rural subsides to remain in place.
He has also spoken about his support for rural health incentives in Federal Parliament. “I hope that common sense will prevail and the needs of rural and regional families will not be ignored,” Mr Chester said.