A REPORT highlighting the significant problems facing the supply of health services in rural and regional areas has been welcomed by the Australian Medical Association.
A Senate committee made 18 recommendations dealing with a range of issues including the distribution of health care professionals, addressing the medical skills deficit in rural areas, changing the classification system for rural and remote areas and the role of medical schools and universities in improving the provision of rural health care.
AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said the report highlighted a number of issues raised in the AMA Regional/Rural Workforce Initiatives Position Statement, released earlier this year.
Key among those was the recommendation to replace the classification system.
"We are pleased that the committee has identified the significant weaknesses apparent in the application of the ASGC-RA classification system that underpins Commonwealth programs to support the rural medical workforce, and recommends that it be replaced," Dr Hambleton said.
"The AMA has been calling for an independent review of this system, which sees many small rural areas being eligible for the same incentive structures that apply to much larger towns. There are too many inequities."
The report also makes recommendations that would pave the way for more medical teaching and training in rural areas.
This includes steps to encourage more rural students to study medicine.
"The AMA fully supports these approaches, which need to incorporate appropriately funded incentives rather than the current draconian system of unfunded bonding of students to rural areas," Dr Hambleton said.
The Rural Doctors Association said the recommendations were a "ringing endorsement" for the policies it been advocating.
RDAA president Dr Paul Mara said there was relief that "finally someone is listening".
"For years we've been trying to explain to the government why the current policies just don't work, but they just haven't got the message," Dr Mara said.
Like the AMA Dr Mara was encouraged by the recommendation to replace the current classification system, which he said was "fatally flawed".
The emphasis on rural medical training also won praise from the RDAA.
"It was great to see the committee recognise the importance of rural generalists to rural and remote communities," Dr Mara said.
"These rural doctors have advanced skills training in areas such as obstetrics, anaesthetics, surgery and mental health.
"In rural areas these advanced and procedural skills are essential to the provision of high quality care as, unlike in urban general practice, specialists in these fields are often not available locally to members of these communities."
- Replacement of the current ASGC-RA system
- Calls for increased numbers of rural generalist GPs
- More rural placement opportunities for prevocational training
- Extend HECS rebates to allied health disciplines
- Strategies around increased intakes of rural students into training courses
- Additional support (eg locums) for rural GP s who are providing training.
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