'Flawed' system needs urgent attention: rural doctors

19 November, 2013

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) says it is hopeful the new federal government will urgently amend the flawed classification system that makes it difficult for many small rural towns to recruit and retain doctors.

It says the introduction of the so-called 'Monash Model' would make the Australian Standard Geographical Classification – Remoteness Areas (ASGC-RA) system much more accurate and reliable in classifying rural locations.

Introduced under the former Labor government, the ASGC-RA determines the 'rurality' of towns and regional cities across Australia, and consequently the extent of many federal supports that doctors in each location receive.

Under the current system, numerous larger regional cities have been classified at the same, or similar, 'rurality' levels as many smaller rural towns, making it very difficult for smaller towns to compete with larger centres in recruiting and retaining doctors.

"At our recent Rural Medicine Australia 2013 conference, many rural doctors again voiced their strong concerns around the ASGC-RA and the imbalance in doctor distribution it creates," Dr Ian Kamerman, RDAA President, said.

"The current system has resulted in doctors being incentivised to locate in larger centres where there is already a very adequate supply of doctors, leaving smaller towns high and dry.

"We are very pleased that the coalition government appears to strongly appreciate the difficulties that the ASGC-RA has been causing, and we are hopeful it will take urgent action to implement the major amendments required.

"RDAA strongly supports implementation of the Monash Model for determining rural classifications, developed by respected health policy academic, Professor John Humphreys from Monash University, and colleagues.

"This model would add several 'layers' to the current ASGC-RA system, making it much more equitable in determining the 'rurality' of locations, including by factoring in population levels and other parameters.

"The Monash Model would bring a strong, evidence-based approach to the current system. It is based on extensive research and analysis across the different regional areas and types of towns in rural Australia, and demonstrates far greater sensitivity to the actual conditions under which rural doctors work.

"Implementing the Monash Model would make for a much more accurate and responsive rural classification system — one that would actually entice and support doctors to move to, and remain in, the small rural towns in which they are so desperately needed."