A shortage of doctors in regional Australia is a decades-old problem, and now a new plan is being implemented to try to fix it.
- Professor Paul Worley has been appointed to the role
- Under new program, doctors will be trained to be skilled in a number of key areas
- The system is already available in Queensland
For the first time, the Federal Government has established the role of a National Rural Health Commissioner who will be tasked with filling the gap of medical experts by improving rural health policies.
Professor Paul Worley has been appointed to the role, which will focus on training and pay for doctors working in the bush.
“I am confident that this will be a way of bringing together groups that have been engaged in rural and health advocacy, in research, in training development, to actually achieve what has been an aspiration for a couple of decades — a sustainable workforce for rural Australia,” Professor Worley said.
He has worked in rural health as a practitioner and academic, and he currently works in a practice 90 kilometres from Adelaide.
Rural Doctors Association chief executive Peta Rutherford has welcomed the announcement.
“We certainly hope that it will create a very strong and a highly influential advocate for rural communities,” she said.
However she warned the rural sector would be watching the Commissioner’s work closely.
“We’ve been very clear that this role needs to be outcome-focused and the need to achieve,” she said.
Professor Worley’s first priority will be to develop what is known as National Rural Generalist Pathways.
Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie said it was about training doctors so they could be skilled in a number of key areas.
“Like the old-fashioned general practitioner who delivered your baby, took your appendix out, as well as running a community general practice,” he said.
“That type of multi-skilled doctor we need in a lot of rural and regional Australia where you don’t have a big enough number to have every second specialist running around a hospital. It is what Australia needs most.”
Change won’t happen overnight
Ms Rutherford said pathways were already widely available in Queensland and it has had a positive result.
“We’ve actually seen birthing re-established in rural towns,” she said.
“Beaudesert is a success story, Cooktown, and Weipa is another one where they’re doing it as well. So, there’s positive signs of that.”
But Professor Worley has warned change will not happen overnight.
“The process obviously is going to take a number of years because the training pathway for a rural generalist will be five years at the minimum,” he said.
“That’s the time it takes after graduation to enable a doctor to be an expert in not only primary care but also secondary care.”
Mr Gillespie said he was hopeful it would result in people having access to better services in the bush.
“We would like to see hundreds more doctors in the regions, we need lots of doctors out of the city out into the bush [because there is a] flood in the city, and a drought out in the regions,” he said.
The appointment of a National Rural Health Commissioner was first promised by the Coalition during last year’s election.