The Healthy Communities Foundation Australia (THCFA) Chief Executive Officer, Mark Burdack, has today called on the State and Federal Government to create a $300 million Rural Health JobKeeper Package to stem the loss of rural and remote GPs, nurses and health staff, and prevent the closure of GP practices in rural and remote communities.
The call by the THCFA CEO follows the publication this week of the the Interim Report of the cross-party Senate Inquiry into the Provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians which found that there has been a failure by “federal or the state governments [to take] proper responsibility for the provision of GPs and other primary health professionals” and to “assist communities with an immediate need for primary health care workers”.
The Report noted that the “current rate of Medicare [acts] as a disincentive for those considering a career as a GP” and “the scaled rates do not appropriately compensate existing regional, rural and remote GPs nor encourage GPs to move to and practice in these areas”.
According to evidence given by the NSW Rural Doctors Network to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote New South Wales Health (page 21):
Ten years ago there were over 800 rural generalists working in remote and rural New South Wales. Today there are fewer than 200 and over 50 per cent of those are aged over 55 and are starting to prepare for retirement planning. If that population, that workforce cohort, is not supported and sustained—not just those who are currently practising but also the pipeline for the new rural generalists—we are in serious trouble.
Mark Burdack, said:
“I think rural and remote people have been waiting a very long time to hear someone admit that the rural health workforce policies of successive governments are part of the problem.
“I want to thank the Senate Community Affairs Committee on behalf of rural and remote people for their courage.
”Rural and remote people have been told for too long that they were the problem, and I think this acknowledgment will go a long way to making rural and remote people feel like they are being heard.
“As the Committee noted however rural and remote communities need help now, not in 10 years time. We understand that the government is slowly changing its rural health workforce programs, but those changes are just the beginning and they are not going to deliver more doctors to rural areas for at least decade.
“As the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry heard, in the last 10 years NSW lost 600 of 800 rural and remote GP proceduralists, so we no longer have the luxury of waiting around to ponder whether these policy changes might work. If we are forced to wait another ten years for a solution we will not have any GP practices left in rural and remote communities.
“Rural and remote GP practices are struggling to survive as the decades-long rural doctor shortage has been made worse by the national workforce shortage caused by COVID. COVID has stopped the supply of GPs from overseas on which rural and remote communities rely for their existence.
”The rural workforce is going to struggle for at least another 24-48 months. Rural and remote communities need a COVID booster program to keep their health services going until a long term solution is found.
“We all know that if a rural or remote town loses its GP practice the town has a snowflakes chance in hell of getting it back.
“Rural and remote communities are the most vulnerable in Australia and they need immediate support to keep their health centres open and operating while they try to recruit GPs including help to pay nursing and practice staff and ongoing operating costs“ said Mr Burdack.
The Healthy Communities Foundation Australia (THCFA), formerly Rural and Remote Medical Services, is a charity that was established 20 years ago to help struggling rural and remote towns to sustain primary healthcare services. As a charity, THCFA advocates on behalf of rural and remote people for better health and services.
For more information please contact Mark Burdack on 0418974988.