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March 27, 2009

Gippsland and Latrobe Valley residents will face reduced access to health professionals and higher medical costs if the Federal Government goes ahead with plans to change the criteria for rural subsidies.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has raised the issue in Federal Parliament and written directly to the Health Minister to highlight the concerns of local health industry leaders.

“I have been contacted by many private clinics and health industry representative groups in Traralgon, Sale and Bairnsdale who fear that Gippsland could lose medical staff and it will become more difficult to attract new doctors if the Federal Government goes ahead with recommendations to change the criteria for rural subsidies,” Mr Chester said.

“Under the proposal, many areas that are currently classified as ‘rural’ will be re-classified as ‘inner regional’ and receive a lower level of government funding and support payments for doctors, specialists and practice nurses.

“Any reduction in the level of subsidies paid to health professionals in Gippsland will have a direct impact on our ability to attract staff in the future.

“Local doctors have expressed to me their grave concerns that, should these recommendations be implemented by the Government, many country practices and hospitals in Gippsland will lose medical personnel.”

Mr Chester said the system of rural subsidies was developed to help regional communities attract health professionals and any changes to the funding criteria would exacerbate the existing skill shortages in Gippsland.

“Not only will it become harder to attract new health professionals, doctors are warning me that it will also be more difficult to retain the people they already have,” Mr Chester said.

“The proposed changes appear to fly in the face of every effort that has been made to attract and retain health professionals in regional areas in recent years.

“The financial impact of reduced government support for individual practices could be up to $100,000 per year and there’s no doubt that those costs will be passed on to patients across Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley.”

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