March 10, 2010
Federal Parliament has been told the rural health workforce is in crisis with governments relying on overseas trained doctors as a stopgap measure to fill the void caused by the lack of a long-term solution to overcome chronic doctor shortages in regional communities.
The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester raised the issue after meeting with the President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) Nola Maxfield. Mr Chester told Parliament that rather than relying on overseas trained doctors to fill the void, there needs to be a focus on attracting and retaining Australian trained doctors to rural and regional communities.
“The RDAA reports that at least 1800 additional doctors are urgently required in regional Australia. The critical shortage means that many country families are facing long waits to visit their local GP,” Mr Chester said.
“Overseas trained doctors make up almost 50 per cent of Australia’s rural doctor workforce but I question the moral legitimacy of taking doctors from countries which often have health systems poorer than our own.
“Many of the doctors we are recruiting have an important role to play in improving the health outcomes of their own nations. Recruiting overseas doctors is a stopgap measure that does not overcome the long-term shortage in rural health professionals.
“There needs to be a better system of incentive payments to attract young doctors to rural areas and more support services to make sure that they enjoy the experience and stay for the longer term.
“With the increased number of young medical students currently in training … we have an opportunity to do everything in our power to make sure that at least a reasonable number choose rural practice.”
Mr Chester said he was receiving constant reports from local residents that access to health services in Gippsland was a growing area of concern.
“I accept that providing quality health services to all Australians, regardless of their postcodes is an enormous challenge. But as we have seen repeatedly, the State Labor administrations are simply not up to the job,” Mr Chester told Parliament.
“They have failed miserably in New South Wales and there is plenty of room for improvement in Victoria.
“The Prime Minister has flagged taking control away from his State Labor colleagues but there’s nothing in the plan so far that addresses the crisis in the rural doctor workforce.
“Unless there’s an incentive package to target regional areas, it will do nothing to improve services or reduce waiting lists.”