450 rural, regional towns receive boost to attract doctors

25 May, 2015

Some 450 rural and regional towns will receive greater incentives to attract GPs from 1 July, under changes announced by Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash.

Under the old system introduced by the previous Labor Government in 2010, some $50 million a year was being used to pay incentives for doctors to live in 14 large regional cities, including Townsville (population 175,000) and Cairns (population 145,000).

The system created incentives for doctors to remain in well-serviced cities which had little trouble attracting doctors.

An independent expert panel consulted with stakeholders before compiling a report for the Minister, using the new Modified Monash Model to classify rural and regional towns and cities. Minister Nash thanked the panel for its work.

"The new GPRIP system will deliver a fairer system for smaller towns; redirecting money to attract more doctors to smaller towns that have genuine difficulty attracting and retaining doctors," Minister Nash said.

"It makes more sense to use that money to attract doctors to where the greatest shortages are - small rural and remote communities, not big regional cities.

"This means bigger incentive payments will go to doctors who choose to work in the areas of greatest need.

"We've taken money which was being used to attract doctors to cities like Cairns and Townsville and we're using it to get doctors to towns like Cowra and Cobram.

"For decades, Australia's small rural towns have struggled to attract enough doctors. This change is one way we're tackling that. As a proud rural Australian, I'm pleased to have been able to deliver this important reform."

The new GP rural incentive payment will not be available to doctors working in the 14 large regional cities with a population of more than 50,000.

The highest incentive paid to work in remote Australia will jump from $47,000 a year to $60,000 a year. The maximum incentive to work in a town of less than 5000 in regional Australia will increase from $18,000 to $23,000.

Other changes include:

  • Doctors will be able to take leave from a rural practice for up to five years with no loss of incentive status on their return;
  • Four existing programs have been streamlined into a single GPRIP retention payment;
  • and doctors will need to stay in a rural or regional area longer - two years up from the current six months - before they receive the incentive.
  • Doctors in remote areas will receive incentive payments after a year.
  • The new incentive arrangements will start from 1 July 2015.

More information and the expert panel report are available at ruralhealthaustralia.gov.au.