'Right doctors' still needed for rural and remote Australia: ACRRM

07 June, 2016

The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) has responded to reports of an oversupply of GPs, saying that despite increasing numbers, a significant maldistribution of the GP workforce means that many rural and remote communities are still struggling to attract doctors.

Doctors who have the generalist skills and training to be able to meet community needs are needed.

College President, Professor Lucie Walters said new policy settings are needed to address this issue which has emerged over the past few years.

"Whereas previously there has been a significant policy focus on increasing overall numbers of GPs, we cannot assume that this will guarantee that rural and remote communities will get the doctors and medical services they need," she said.

"We now need a far more targeted approach.

"This includes initiatives around selecting medical students and junior doctors who have a genuine interest in rural medical practice; providing them with targeted training and support; and then ensuring that they are appropriately recognised and remunerated for providing the often complex range of services that are needed in rural communities."

Professor Walters said while there are a number of existing incentive and training programs available, more work is needed to redress the ongoing workforce maldistribution.

"ACRRM has called on all political parties to support the rollout of a National Rural Generalist Program which would address many of these issues," she said.

"This needs to be accompanied by remuneration and incentive models which recognise and reward doctors for providing high-quality, coordinated and collaborative care."

Professor Walters acknowledged the services of Overseas Training Doctors who are filling service gaps in many rural and remote communities, but said that the long-term solution rested with ‘growing our own' doctors.

"We cannot continue to rely on other countries to provide our rural medical workforce," she said. 

"We need to use the increasing numbers of junior doctors and medical students to provide the 'right doctors' who have the training, motivation and support to be able to deliver high-quality health care in rural and remote communities."